Words cannot accurately express how happy I am with this latest release from Toronto’s bedroom pop duo TV Sets, but words are what I deal with so here goes nothing!
A little bit of background before we get into the thick of it. The pair responsible for the lo-fi artistic brilliance of TV Sets met early last year, erm, through their bloody walls. They debuted this past summer with a very brief EP titled Rat Tar Art, which, in a review for this publication, I described as “honest and fragile,” a quality that “is hard to find in an industry where everyone’s trying to get noticed by being the biggest, the loudest, and the best.” The lo-fi quality of the recording failed to short-change the artistic integrity of the performers and even surprisingly became one of the album’s charming highlights.
Ladies, gentlemen, and fellow creatures of the underground, allow me to explain to you exactly why TV Sets is one of my favourite groups to emerge as of late and how they have earned my complete and utter fascination. They have spirit, talent, and they produce.
Most musicians form a group, write material, rehearse said material, and then hit the scene playing covers, originals, and whatever it takes to make a few bucks and get the name out there. After developing a sound that works best for them, they put together a finished product and attempt to market themselves to the bigger picture. TV Sets, on the other hand, seem intent on recording their development process for the world to see.
Having only put their project together in the past year, TV Sets got straight to recording their brief debut, allowing us but a glimpse of what they might develop into. Sure, it was a bit rough, but the astute listener could hear the raw potential in the project. “Falling Awake,” for example, has a breezy deadpan to it that would lend itself well to many different types of television commercial.
With the release of a second short EP, GEN POP, so soon after the first, I am filled with a tremendous amount of hope for the project. It signals to me that these two are more interested in progressing than they are in devoting time into one long, same-sounding record. It is very exciting to be able to watch a project take shape like this. I find it’s like the development of a great character in a well written novel.
Moving on, GEN POP beautifully illustrates my point by presenting the group’s next big step. While it does bear a resemblance to its predecessor, this new EP sees the band in a far less intimate environment. There is a marked improvement not only in sound, but in togetherness as well. The first of four tracks, “Tangles,” is a trippy bit of guitar backmasking, starting the record off instrumentally, like the last one ended.
“So Fortunate” brought a smile to my face within seconds. The bouncy opening guitar riff takes the charm of the first album and applies it to a much more lucid atmosphere, adding light percussion, synth highlights, and a blending of Eno/Barrett-like male vocals and soft, airy, female background vocals that remind me of the greats that have backed Billy Corgan in the Pumpkins over the years. Despite the vocals being low in the mix, the melody is extremely catchy and strikingly sixties like. It’s the kind of hook that appeals to the Donovan fan in me.
“Cartoons” forsakes anything presented in Rat Tar Art by launching the band into eighties dark wave territory. Here, the synths and the backing vocals add precious augmentation to the urgent nature of the guitar. The guitar leads are as sharp and interesting as they were on the first EP and find a good home amid this record’s pep.
The final track, “Pixel Gut,” is so unbelievably f*cking awesome. It begins with the intimacy that was presented in the first EP, with super cool distorted baritone vocals droning somehow elegantly over a very nice guitar bit. A gripping and unusual beat is introduced, along with gorgeous synth bass, driving percussion, and a neat electro hook. The tune is spectacularly arranged, with regular interruptions to the flow of things accentuating the strength of that very flow. Furthermore, “Pixel Gut” is brilliantly placed at the end of the album, making GEN POP not unlike a whopping cliff hanger of an episode in an enthralling series.
After seeing what the band had to offer during their third live performance (at the Silver Dollar Room in Toronto last Thursday), I am completely and utterly drawn into this developing epic. Seeing the band still feeling out and planning their live show, I can honestly say that pieces are falling into place that have me eagerly anticipating the next brief glimpse into the project’s progression. With a lo-fi mask that fails miserably to cover up its intelligent craftsmanship, GEN POP is a groovy bit of artistic charm and promises to be a glimmering chapter in a long series of accomplishments for a uniquely talented group.
GEN POP is available for free at tvsets.bandcamp.com!
RYAN SMITH spends a great deal of his time under troll bridges shaking his fist and hollering obscenities at the mainstream, but occasionally finds himself on the side of a pop act that the underground has disowned. A schizoid fan for the 21st century? Although he has a diverse musical taste that runs the gamut from black metal to country to most forms of jazz, Ryan’s first love will always be progressive music.