By Rebecca Raber
Maximum Balloon is TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek but, strictly speaking, it is not a Dave Sitek solo project. Sure, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Scarlett Johansson producer is pulling all the strings (as he seems to do on many albums he produces), but the debut from this project is less a chance for him to take centerstage as it is an opportunity to color outside the lines required by his day jobs. So, despite Sitek showing off his pipes on a cover of the Troggs' "With a Girl Like You" on last year's Dark Was the Night compilation, his own deep, dusky vocals are largely absent from these Maximum Balloon songs. Instead, he has called up old friends (like his TVOTR bandmates Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe) and new (singer Holly Miranda) to jam on tracks that are meant for the dance floor, but will, most likely, never have to be played live. The songs are, therefore, liberated from the shackles of needing to be recreated in real time, so Sitek can spackle on as many layers of noisy synthesizers as he likes, and he can gather an enviable group of singers to act as his mouthpiece, regardless of the fact that, logistically, they could never all be corralled for one big tour. The result is a dense, sultry collection that revels in the dissonance between its thick, synthesized arrangements and its emotive, earthy vocal performances.
Despite being the work of a star producer, the rotating vocalists make the album feel relaxed and loose, with each guest shading the record in subtle new ways. Soulful Brooklyn rapper Theophilus London brings sex appeal to his neon-disco opener. Swedish synth-poppers Little Dragon bring flirty fun, as Yukimi Nagano's coquettish coos and her bandmates' effervescent videogame synth figures sand over the hard edges of "If You Return". And Kyp Malone brings the serious, arty ambition; his "Shakedown" is a welcome weirdo slow jam, replete with falsetto howls.
At its core, however, the album still belongs to Sitek. His fingerprints are all over each song-- in Nile Rogers-esque percussive guitars and hooks; harsh, aggressive synths; and shiny, maximumalist production flourishes. The Karen O-starring "Communion" picks up where It’s Blitz! left off, using one of her most restrained, lovely vocals (it could be the third part of a "Maps"/"Hysteric" trilogy). Sitek also indulges in his funky and arty muses (Chic, Prince, Talking Heads). A David Byrne collaboration, "Apartment Wrestling", which recalls David Bowie's "Fashion", is such a perfect imitation of the prickly, percussive funk of the Talking Heads (right down to the staccato horn bursts) that it transcends homage. Hearing this and Sitek's other aesthetic choices removed from a TVOTR record or an album he's producing for another artist reminds us that his work always does.