Maximum Balloon Maximum BalloonMaximum Balloon
“Renowned producer from indie trenches temporarily leaves his New York group to explore the aesthetic resources of 80’s pop” : this could be the headline that more or less summarises what Maximum Balloon is, the project that Dave Sitek will be entertaining himself with until TV On The Radio decides to get together again to record and take up where the excellent “Dear Science” left off. But if we’re looking for parallels, what Sitek does with his first album, where he has chosen to place all of the emphasis on ten guest voices, has a lot to do with what Damon Albarn has been doing for some time with the Gorillaz cartoons: distance himself from what his fans expect and go off on a tangent with some songs that don’t have much to do with what he was doing in the band that had given him international recognition. In Maximum Balloon, everything is under control, from the beautifying synthesisers to the Chic-style guitars that seek to reformulate funk well into the 21st century, under an attentive pop score. Because that is exactly what we will find: magnificent, crystalline pop, led by a man who doesn’t need any of the secrets of the sound board explained to him, as his experience producing Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Foals, or the debut of Scarlett Johansson vouches for him.
The new melodies Sitek has thought up are the perfect foil to make the friends who are accompanying him on this new sound journey feel at home. The album is fun, and there isn’t a single cut that isn’t worthy of mention, or that doesn’t fulfil its mission to a greater or lesser degree of effectiveness—the only one I’d raise objection with is “Apartment Wrestling” on which David Byrne sounds like a parody of the Talking Heads. It’s also worth pointing out that all of the women who appear here have a trait in common: they have velvety voices, bursting with a passion that can unleash a cataclysm, ideal for performing the melodies that we mentioned earlier. For example, we have Karen O, also known as “versatility personified,” recovering the vocal turns that she used on her own “Hysteric” for the song “Communion”. We also have Katrina Ford, the frontwoman of Celebration polishing that gem, which could well have been an old tantric production of Giogio Moroder, called “Young Love”, and which should maybe have some sort of frame placed around it. And why not, there is also Yukimi Nagano, leader of Little Dragon, following in Yazoo’s steps with an 8-bit alibi in “If You Return”. And if we continue seeking greater added value for “Maximum Balloon”, we can find it in Holly Miranda, in a demonstration of what a vocal guest could be like on a coming Massive Attack album: “The Lesson” is lovely and disturbing – or in Ambrosia Parsley (from Shivaree), who has the difficult task (which she successfully carries off) of closing the album with “Pink Bricks”.
In the male section—because make no mistake, this album is like a little war of the sexes without winners or losers—his fellow band members raise their heads, as is to be expected, Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone, who give us “Absence of Light”, the darkest piece of the lot, very much in the line of TV On The Radio, with that metronomic beat overloaded with effects and phantasmagoric bass lines, as well as “Shakedown”, very much in the line of Prince, with a falsetto and everything. But there’s more. There is Theophilus London, hidden behind a neon curtain, really hot, feeling like Pharrell Williams for a day. And there is Aku, star of the sexual dance-floor-breaker hand grenade of “Tiger”, which is well-known for being the background of that video starring the model Daisy Lowe for the British edition of Esquire which has been fuelling the hard-ons and wet dreams of thousands for the last few weeks. Sitek, more than composing, paints his songs, although like Willem de Kooning, he’s not one to clean the brush before he starts with a new colour palette. He’s into mixing and blurring, and this is why everything on this album maintains a logical coherence. The album, although it is heterogeneous, never breaks down because the voices keep it steady and firm. Leaving New York for a while has done Sitek good. Now, the question is: will this parallel project influence future work from TV On The Radio? No clue so far, but I will confess that after hearing this album, I for one would be thrilled if it did.
Sergio del Amo
Maximum Balloon - Abscence of light (feat. Tunde Adebimpe)