Monday, October 20, 2014
TV on the Radio – “Wash the Day Away” from Return to Cookie Mountain (2006 4AD/Interscope/Touch and Go)

Note: I blew it. I did. Astute readers know this, having gathered that I update this thing every weekday, save for maybe Labor Day for some reason. Those same astute readers, two or three in number, likely noticed as well that, after completely copping out on what could have otherwise been a riveting Charles Bronson post last Wednesday, I went silent for a couple of days. My explanation is legit — I was traveling cross-country with a toddler in tow — but still, it would be wrong to minimize just how much so many of you depend on this blog and its wisdom. I offer my sincerest apologies and a promise to do better in the future.

TV on the Radio are masters of defying categorization, putting their own unique spin on music, combining elements or rock, R&B, and a million other influences into their sound. “Wash the Day Away” opens with a lone drum beat that is just reminiscent enough of “Sgt. Pepper’s” but then becomes its own drony, noisy animal, full of those beautiful layered vocals that make TV on the Radio so great. As noisy as it is, it’s a fairly languid song, and almost sounds like an updated take on the Velvet Underground. At one point there’s even some flute noodling that happens deep in the mix. Things fade out into further drone and drum noise (including, it seems, electric sitar, which is pretty cool), and we’re left to ponder the lyrics (see below).

When asked in an interview about the lyrical content on this record, vocalist/bandleader Tunde Adebimpe offered this rather aloof art-guy explanation: “Every record we make is a document of where we are at the time, and what’s affecting us. I don’t think there are any intentional messages on the record, political or otherwise. It’s just a bunch of snapshots of where we were.”

I have a lot of respect for this band, and consequently for Adebimpe, but I don’t know if I buy it. Some of the internet weirdos who take the time to comment on sites like suggest that there is some real deep 9/11 commentary happening here, and posit it in a far more convincing way than I’ve been accustomed to expect from that particular venue.

Whatever the case, it seems that there is some real socio-political content within these lyrics, kind of a post-modern take on the state of humanity, or maybe a humane take on our post-modern reality. In a lot of ways, it’s not so different from the very politically-charged lyrics from speed-metal and thrash bands of the eighties, which is, I suppose, in keeping with TV on the Radio’s immense and diverse cache of influences.

It could be, however, that the secret to the entire song is contained within the penultimate stanza, most of which I am unable to translate. Any help in this department would be appreciated.

Little flightless metal birds
High above in limbless tree
Echoes from their tiny box
Ring out into the atmosphere
Creating beauty inadvertentlyIt was a technological featThis little birdWading through the market’s waste
We locked eyes felt our loneliness abate
True desire showed its face, but only momentarily

Grey cascades in foreign waves
Wash the day away

I bought you flowers from the dying woods of Brazil
This little bird
While the kids burned down the greenhouse pushed the charred frame into the landfill
Put his beak to the word
We bought new bodies we bought diamond encrusted guns
So who the hell are you?
Making out so high in the backseat of a car-bomb under carcinogenic sun

Grey cascades in foreign waves
Wash the day away
Grey cascades in foreign waves

We did believe in magic we did believe
We let our souls act as canaries
Our hearts gilded cages be

Watched a million dimming lanterns float out to sea
Lay your malady at the mouth of the death machine

Aeroplane odabo,
Ba mi ki won lo odabo.
Eko meji, o yo mi
O yo mi
O yo mi

Grey cascades in foreign waves
Wash the day away
Grey cascades in foreign waves

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