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January 07, 2015 at 05:00 AM EST

A few years ago, some music critics took to referring to Wilco as ”the American Radiohead,” an enviable descriptor that suggests a group’s willingness to experiment while maintaining a fundamental musical identity that is both intellectually and viscerally satisfying. With all due respect to Jeff Tweedy, that title rightfully belongs to Brooklyn’s TV on the Radio, the 21st century’s most gloriously shifty art-pop experiment.

A jittery intensity powers Seeds, the band’s fifth album. Perhaps it stems from some sort of midlife reevaluation. (The members are hovering around 40.) Or maybe the 2011 passing of bassist Gerard Smith, at age 36, reminded them how delicate life can be.

Whatever the origin of this anxious aggression, Seeds benefits—it’s a dramatically nimble improvement upon 2011’s more languid Nine Types of Light. The fuzzy ”Lazerray” charges head-down, but elsewhere, that restless energy emerges in more fully integrated ways. It’s in the pleading questions Kyp Malone asks during ”Could You,” in the subtle drone on the outskirts of the otherwise bubbly ”Test Pilot,” and in the swell of strings on the warm, wonderful title track.

The result is an album that feels like it demanded to exist. TVOTR clearly love to tinker with synths, samples, and percussion, but unlike other groups who spelunk through sonic architecture, they’re still concerned with making pretty songs that service the head and the heart. Considering how little humanity has lurked in recent Radiohead releases, maybe they should aspire to be ”the British TV on the Radio.” A-


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