With lyrics and vocals that are just as ambitious and attention-getting as the music surrounding them, TV on the Radio have always had a lot going on in their music. Indeed, Return to Cookie Mountain was so elaborate that topping it would be difficult, so on Dear Science, (yes, the comma is intentional) the band channels its focus into lean, nimble songs with more structure and polish -- and more focus on Tunde Adepimbe's and Kyp Malone's vocals -- than any of TV on the Radio's previous work. This immediacy and crystalline clarity take some getting used to, especially compared to Cookie Mountain's lavish yet organic sound: "Family Tree"'s strings, pianos, and plainly worded vulnerability make it one of the band's most accessible songs, but it doesn't feel like anything was sacrificed to make it so anthemic. That feeling only deepens on the self-evidently sexy "Red Dress," which uses Antibalas' vibrant brass and taut guitars to show-stopping effect.
As Dear Science, unfolds, it becomes clear that it isn't so much a radical change for TV on the Radio as it is a slight but significant shift in approach. "Stork and Owl," an inspired mix of hypnotically looping samples and flowing, real-time soulfulness, and "Love Dog," which boasts some of Adepimbe's most affecting singing since "Staring at the Sun," could have fit easily on earlier albums with a few sonic tweaks. And, like Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes and Return to Cookie Mountain, Dear Science, begins with an epic statement of purpose -- although "Halfway Home" is as sleek as it is grand, sprinting towards its end with streaking guitars -- and ends in an embrace with "Lover's Day," a duet with Celebration's Katrina Ford that turns "I wanna break your back" from a threat to a come-on. Tackling love and war, often within the same song, is all in a day's work for TV on the Radio. However, the band's take on these themes is subtly but notably more optimistic here, as though lightening their sound lightened their mood as well. "DLZ" broods over "the long-winded blues of the never," but on the brilliantly funky "Golden Age," Adepimbe sings "there's a golden age coming 'round" without a trace of irony. Malone's "Crying" calls out the wrongs of the world but ends up just as hopeful as it is angry, while the pun in "Dancing Choose"'s title is pointed enough that the song almost doesn't need to prove that dancing on your troubles is powerfully therapeutic as thoroughly as it does, but that's just another example of this album's rare balance between craft and passion. That comma at the title's end seems naggingly open-ended at first, but it's actually a perfect fit for Dear Science,'s openness to possibilities and positivity.