The concept of “cool” is a very odd thing indeed. Wikipedia describes it as “an aesthetic of attitude, behavior, comportment, appearance and style, influenced by and a product of the Zeitgeist”. It’s a pretty tricky definition to grasp but you can almost certainly apply it to David Sitek, the guitarist and song writer of the frequently lauded TV on the Radio.
Maximum Balloon is Sitek’s first attempt at a solo album, and it’s complete with cool minimalist artwork, cool beats and rhythms, cool synths and horns, and a bunch of collaborators that you’re almost certainly not cool enough to have heard of. Cool. Very cool. Chilly. Freezing. Listen to it more than once and you’ll almost certainly have a severe case of hypothermia. It’s very cool, is what I’m trying to say here.
Now there’s clearly a lot of people who’ll find this kind of thing attractive, and to be fair to them, it’s easy to understand why. Maximum Balloon manages to successfully fuse slick, urban-esque rhythms with funk-inspired guitar and keyboards that will undoubtedly be the soundtrack to New York club nights for months to come. The aforementioned collaborators include the esteemed likes of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O and even David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame – every one of them brings something new to the record. Nevertheless, Sitek does seem to let the album coast on this infinite supply of “coolness” – at no point does it even try to exceed the sum of its parts. It’s a bit too cool for its own good really – dazzlingly sparkly on top but when you try and find any sort of substance, it is severely lacking.
Alas, it’s not all bad news, far from it. The album soars into life with what is definitely the best song – current single Groove Me – which combines layers of effervescent keyboards and blasts of funky horn and guitar with the downright beautiful vocals of a rapper you’ve never heard of (Theophilus London – he’s just cooler than you’ll ever be, right?). It’s got everything going for it in terms of production, too – Sitek does a great job bringing the whole thing to life and spinning on to the dance floor. It takes a while to reach the single’s peaks again, but when it does it’s a pretty great one – Karen O puts in a great vocal performance on what is one of the few tracks you could go back to more than once, Communion. It’s the logical extension of the material from It’s Blitz, and it probably succeeds here simply because it does sound like a Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ song. This is followed immediately by Tiger, a fast dance number which is certainly exhilarating but highlights the flaws of the album perfectly – wonderful at the time but it leaves no lasting impression whatsoever. After a few more fillers, David Byrne picks up the pace again with Apartment Wrestling, but the album grinds to a surprisingly dull conclusion with Pink Bricks.
Maximum Balloon is probably best summed up with a fitting balloon-based metaphor. It is big. It is bright. It is very shiny. But it’s easy to puncture this illusion. The whole thing is inflated with a seemingly endless supply of cool but after a few listens there’s only a smattering of tracks you’ll want to revisit. So this is an album best enjoyed in a short burst – it’s better to let it explode in a dazzling burst of noise than see it deflate and wither into a tired old mess as time goes by… 6.5/10