Maximum Balloon is the perfect name for producer/TV on the Radio member David Sitek's collaborative side project: it’s bigger, lighter, and more playful-sounding than any of the music he’s made before -- and it also goes pop. Indie music fans know Sitek's dense, detailed sound, which he’s tailored to work with artists such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, Telepathe, Scarlett Johansson, and, of course, TVOTR. However, he shows just how versatile his music can be here by bringing in friends to sing on tracks tailor-made for them. The project was sparked by Sitek’s listening habits as a Los Angeles transplant getting used to the city’s lengthy commutes; he played lots of Prince, Chic, Cyndi Lauper, and Nile Rodgers productions, and Maximum Balloon's best tracks are infused with that kind of funky, smart energy. “Tiger,” which arrived a few months before the album with a memorable video of model Daisy Lowe dancing to it, is stunning, with a low-riding synth bassline that builds into brass and Aku of Dragons of Zynth's rallying cry to let loose. Though nothing else quite matches it, the album starts off with a bang: “Groove Me,” which features Theophilus London, evokes Kool & the Gang's party-time feel in its scratchy riffs and joyous choruses; “Young Love” sets the rich alto of Celebration's Katrina Ford atop pristine but rapturous electro-pop with vintage synth toms; and bandmate Tunde Adebimpe shows once again why he’s Sitek's most natural collaborator on the sexy but philosophical “Absence of Light.” Adebimpe's voice sounds right at home, but still exciting, nestled in Sitek's layers of sound, and vice versa, and this track suggests that Maximum Balloon's pop leanings may have been gestating since TVOTR's Dear Science. Not surprisingly, Sitek's tracks with Kyp Malone (the old-school-tinged “Shakedown”) and Karen O (“Communion”) evoke his past successes with them, even if they’re not quite as remarkable. Compared to its high-energy start, Maximum Balloon's final tracks fizzle a bit, with Holly Miranda and Ambrosia Parsley struggling to make an impression with the sleepy “The Lesson” and “Pink Bricks,” respectively. Meanwhile, David Byrne’s cameo on “Apartment Wrestling” is charming, but not quite up to the standard of the best tracks here. Overall, though, this is an enjoyable, danceable working holiday from Sitek, one that shows aspects of his music that bode well for his many other projects.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares