Release Date: Sep 21, 2010
Record label: Fiction
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
TV on the Radio’s David Sitek has added one more laurel to his curriculum vitae with the birth of Maximum Balloon. Sitek lays down dance-friendly, synth-heavy tracks and collaborates with a different musician on each of the album’s 10 songs, including Karen O., David Byrne and Dragons of Zynth’s Aku. Some songs are better than others, but what really differentiates the album—besides the great electronic beats—is the variety of genres represented.
When TV On the Radio guitarist and producer extraordinaire Dave Sitek decided to release an album to, in his word 'get a bunch of pop music out of my system', he decided his own singing wasn’t quite up to the task, so given his impressive connections he just flicked through his talent-filled Rolodex to give voice to his Maximum Balloon project. Sitek himself produces a pretty consistent musical backing throughout the record, actually working within a relatively limited scope in terms of instrumentation: guitar, bass, synths, drum machines with the odd horn part thrown in. Basically the same sonic palette as TVOTR themselves, but texturally free of the more abrasive aspects of their sound, whilst also shying away from the weighty subject matter that sees critics treat each TVOTR album like a state-of-the-nation address.
Crucially, Maximum Balloon – the latest project from producer Dave Sitek – was recorded in the sun-drenched environs of LA rather than the dingy, windowless New York studio where Sitek produced albums by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars and his own band, TV On the Radio. So while this is definitely a Sitek album – the dense, multi-layered aural trademarks are still in place – it feels airier and less fraught; it's pop music, but with a slightly woozy edge. It's also not a typical solo album; each of the 10 tracks feature a guest vocalist, from David Byrne on the Talking Heads-meets-Prince funk of Apartment Wrestling, to Swedish newcomers Little Dragon on the synth-heavy rush of If You Return.
Dave Sitek, the guitarist and sonic draftsman for art rockers TV on the Radio, scaled back his murky production on the band’s 2008 masterwork Dear Science—shedding some of the prophetic pessimism found in the ambient textures of the group’s previous efforts, and instead pushed the band to embrace a bit of joyful groove. While their previous two studio albums buried the subtle flourishes of rhythm and soul underneath jarring tones, Dear Science, wholly languished between surly dissonance and choppy funk. On Maximum Balloon, Sitek’s self-titled debut solo project, he goes a step further by almost wholly ignoring TVOTR’s tendencies for angst-filled grand gestures and instead finds himself indulging in the rhythmic vigor of nu-disco, dance-pop and computerized funk-soul.
Maximum Balloon is the perfect name for producer/TV on the Radio member David Sitek's collaborative side project: it’s bigger, lighter, and more playful-sounding than any of the music he’s made before -- and it also goes pop. Indie music fans know Sitek's dense, detailed sound, which he’s tailored to work with artists such as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, Telepathe, Scarlett Johansson, and, of course, TVOTR. However, he shows just how versatile his music can be here by bringing in friends to sing on tracks tailor-made for them.
Interesting vocalists ensure David Sitek’s latest project is never bland. Garry Mulholland 2010 Maximum Balloon is exactly what you might expect from a David Andrew Sitek side project. Since emerging with Brooklyn’s too-cool-for-school TV on the Radio and going on to produce debut albums by Scarlett Johansson and Foals, Sitek has operated in that enviable space where one’s name becomes a byword for hipness while no-one really knows what you look like.