Album Review: TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light

TV on the Radio returns from a brief hiatus with Nine Types of Light. From one of the most mesmerizing and challenging bands of the last decade, the major-keyed album doesn’t quite meet the high standard they’ve set. The band is still unmatched in melding their influences into a cohesive sound, but Nine Types of Light is missing the “Eureka” moments, surprise turns and breakout songs of previous records.

The bouncy, sun-soaked “Second Song” opens the album with an uncharacteristic tone that permeates the proceedings. Horns are more prevalent than ever, and the vocals (provided, as always, by Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone) tend towards uplifting rather than darkly exotic. Typical of the album is “You,” driven by a simple Eastern guitar riff and crunchy boom box drums.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/you.mp3″ text=”TV on the Radio – You” dl=0]

“Killer Crane” is the band at their most stripped down and vulnerable. Thick piano chords do the heavy lifting, but the song isn’t as poignant as something like “Family Tree.” The lead single, “Will Do,” is a love song in in the purest sense. It features a surging low end and one of the band’s surest melodies yet. As the chorus holds, “no choice of words will break me from this groove.”

As waves of guitars, synths and horns are added to the mix, the album begins to feel more like TV on the Radio. “Keep Your Heart” is the upbeat cousin to Dear Science‘s “Stork and Owl.” The darkness starts to creep in on “No Future Shock,” which urges the listener “do the ‘no future'” before layers of instrumentation pull it apart at the seams. The sexy “New Cannonball Blues” would fit on any of their albums; Adebimpe’s slinking vocal lines and Malone’s blasts of falsetto keep it grounded in familiar terrain.

[wpaudio url=”/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/new_cannonball_blues.mp3″ text=”TV on the Radio – New Cannonball Blues” dl=0]

TV on the Radio are gifted chameleons, altering their color while staying true to their sound. To paraphrase Potter Stewart about obscenity, you know a TVOTR song when you hear it: the juxtaposition of diverse styles, the distinct vocal harmonies between Adebimpe and Malone. On each successive release, the art rock provocateurs have scrubbed away some of their trademark grime to focus on melody and songcraft. But can’t you have both?

Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes was a revelation; Return to Cookie Monster the rare sophomore sensation. In the band’s oeuvre, Nine Types of Light is closer to Dear Science in that regard. But while Dear Science was a surprising departure, the album was a grower and far more immediate than this one. Nine Types of Light is a just a little too meditative for my tastes; it’s as if some of the band’s light has been extinguished.

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