It’s tempting to say that Nine Types of Light sounds like TV on the Radio is having fun for the first time, but that is far from true; the band has sounded exuberant on every single one of their releases. If there is any band that consistently sounds like they enjoy making incredible music, it’s TV on the Radio.
And yet, there is something unmistakably different about Nine Types of Light, something that takes a step away from the quintet’s first three full lengths. It seems that a hiatus of over a year taught this band – to whom music has always seemed like the most important thing in the world – that, well, music isn’t always the most important thing in the world. If Dear Science, and Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes are designer outfits, Nine Types of Light is the same set of clothes in a thrift store; a little more lived in, a little more loved, and a little more comfy.
"It's something that kept circling around in my head," said lead singer Tunde Adebimpe, talking about the album’s title. "It struck me as odd that that phrase, when you keep it to just nine types of light, it's excluding a billion other types of light.” Indeed, that exclusion seems like exactly what the band has undertaken, blocking out the impulse to layer tracks as much as they may have once done in favor of a more streamlined and simple sound. The album, full of love songs wistfully sung in a world that is slowly going to shit, forgoes fuzz in favor of focus, isolating elements usually buried in the band’s sound and letting them shine.
In some ways, the simplification of the band’s sound makes them less otherworldly, and for the first time it doesn’t seem preposterous to compare TV on the Radio’s sound to other groups – Of Montreal here, Big Audio Dynamite there, Scissor Sisters for a split second right there. In other ways, though, the streamlined sound makes it clear that TV on the Radio is so tied up in the voices of Adebimpe and counterpoint Kyp Malone that their sound will always be inimitable. This band could make a country record and it would still sound like TV on the Radio, art rock and all.
Nine Types of Light is a tricky album, one that sneaks up on you and slowly grows, until it has found a place within the TV on the Radio canon that you might have, at first blush, excluded it from. Although it lacks some of the sheer studio awesomeness of the band’s first three full lengths, it replaces that urgency with a closeness and familiarity previously unseen, as if the band turned down the “Compelling” knob on the mixing board and compensated by dialing up the “Comforting” channel. Nine Types of Light isn’t a departure so much as the evolution of a group that has seen – and listened to – a little more of the world since they first joined forces.
The album’s slower songs trace their roots to tunes like Young Liars’ “Blind,” and Dear Science,’s “Family Tree,” but without the desperation or sadness evident in that ancestry. The punchier tracks, like “Repetition,” “New Cannonball Run,” and “No Future Shock,” have the same fire as precursors “Dancing Choose” and “Satellite,” but Adebimpe sounds similarly happier and less weighted down. These are not the apocalyptic revolutions of previous albums; at the very least, they only tackle those topics as secondary themes. These are songs of love and longing, of passion and – cliché though it may be – light. “With the world all falling apart,” sings Malone, “I’m gonna keep your heart.”
The new positivity, even in the face of adversity, is distilled most beautifully into “Killer Crane,” one of the most simply gorgeous songs ever written by TV on the Radio. It’s Malone at his most traditionally poetic – “Sunshine, I saw you through the hanging vine, a memory of what was mine, fading away” – without a trace of melodrama. Where earlier in their career TV on the Radio may have intensified the sound with a full-bodied brass section, this time around they use warm cellos and rustic banjos. Contemplative and gorgeous, it is the centerpiece of Nine Types of Light.
Much has been made about the fact that TV on the Radio was never far from a grill during the recording sessions for Nine Types Of Light. Laying down tracks at Dave Sitek’s home studio in Los Angeles, the band savored a change of scenery that found its way into an album of songs content to be just an album of songs, rather than a call to arms or a shout of rage against the dying of the light. After a year spent scattered to the winds of side projects, the band seems happy to be back in the same room, but just as inclined to turn the microphone off and catch up as they are to re-record a track until it makes heads spin. If you were choosing between laying down four more tracks of vocals and fuzz or sharing a beer and a sandwich with your friend, what would you do?
Fortunately for us, the genius of TV on the Radio is not a switch that can be flicked quite so easily. “I’ve tried so hard to shut it down, lock it up, gently walk away,” Malone sings on album opener “Second Song.” And yet, he’s back. They may be a bit more gentle, but TV on the Radio are very much still here.
TV On The Radio - "Will Do"
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