Writing about Character Splatters, the latest album by Peterborough’s Television Rd turned out to be one of the greater challenges I’ve had as a music reviewer. I often find it helpful to talk to friends about the bands I’m reviewing, letting the language I use instinctively in conversation creep into the the more refined setting of my reviews. In this pre-writing phase, I caught myself describing Television Rd in different ways every time I spoke about them. At first I was preoccupied with their retro jazzy and R&B influences, describing them as a modern take on that classic style. This side of their sound is strongest on “Fry the Hound”, “Burial Ground”, “Commodity Song” and the album’s namesake, “Character Splatters”, a fascinating title considering their stylistic identity issues.
Later though, I couldn’t help but include a Metric reference. Their frequent use of keyboards and typical indie rock guitar riffs, matched with the use of lead singer Sara Ostowska’s lower register and an upbeat tempo on songs like “Burial Ground”, make the comparison easy but fair. “Chrysalis” has a similarly upbeat dance vibe. Sara’s voice on the whole also introduces a whole other genre into the mix. Despite its beauty and her technical skill, there’s a quirkiness and aggression that hints at a punk influence further shown in the distorted final moments of “Burial Ground”.
Another difficulty I faced writing this review was the inconsistency of my feelings for the album as a whole versus the individual songs and their unique energy. After multiple listens, Television Rd’s melting pot approach somehow becomes both dull and fascinating. The overall result plays out like a mostly bland indie rock record that only survives multiples listens if you’re eager and willing to dissect it piece by piece. When listened to passively, most of the album seems boring until one particular element or moment in a song grabs you. The best example of this unique songwriting technique is the masterfully placed first track, “Phat Farm”. It opens like a typical indie rock song then the addition of what sounds like a xylophone (or some other childlike instrument) adds a twee pop flavour to the track. At the one minute and thirty second mark an angular lead guitar riff adds post-punk to the mix before switching gears entirely and, due mostly to the addition of an organ riff, the song briefly morphs into reggae before going full circle back into straight indie rock.
Consistently, the album’s most impressive pieces are the vocals, drumming and use of various keyboard based instruments. However, the bass playing on “Preach” is exceptional, and the guitar tone on “Nausea” gave me chills. Using a repetition of the song’s title as lyrics, the band expertly creates a sickly and psychotic atmosphere.
Even though my opinion of this record is complicated, I definitely consider myself a fan of Television Rd and have a curious desire to one day experience these energetic songs in a live setting, where I have a strong feeling they would thrive, because most of these songs beg to be heard at loud volumes while dancing in order to be appreciated properly and at their full potential.
Written by Brian Clarke