TV on the Radio, ‘Nine Types of Light’ (Interscope)
TV on the Radio have been many things in the decade since they first dive-bombed New York City’s outer boroughs. Arty a cappella reductionists on 2003’s Young Liars EP; sky-bound funk-slop visionaries on 2004’s still-epic Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes; tenacious, politically ravaged anthemists on 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain; and most recently, a manic pixie dance band on 2008’s Dear Science. Throughout, their songs have been marked by lead singer Tunde Adebimpe’s to-the-heavens demon howl, producer/multi-instrumentalist Dave Sitek’s searing gospel-funk hoedowns, and an ineffable sense of drama — theirs is a sound that is meaningful but shaded, aggressive but delicate. It can burn as quickly as it can fade away. TV on the Radio make Important Music for Important Times.
So, as the country claws its way back to sanity, if not normalcy, Nine Types of Light begins as a surprise of sorts: It’s lovers rock. Which isn’t to say this band has never loved. Guitarist Kyp Malone’s “Lover’s Day” from Dear Science remains an oft-quoted Brooklyn sex jam, and they are an undeniably physical band — not quite hip-thrusters, but Adebimpe’s wounded, off-kilter sensuality is a particularly unusual brand. They just haven’t been this intimate about their feelings before. “I’m gonna keep your heart / If the world falls apart / I’m gonna keep your heart,” Malone sings softly on the chorus of the stuttering, mandolin-accented “Keep Your Heart.” Later, on “You”: “You’re the only one I ever loved.” “Will Do” is a torch song that begins with such plainspoken unfussiness that it could appear on a Taylor Swift album.
While drummer Jaleel Bunton and bassist Gerard Smith were Science‘s lifeblood, pumping and chugging out some fractured take on disco, now they’re barely audible at times. And is that a banjo on “Killer Crane”? It all raises another question: What happened to the lupine fury? The apocalypse of the soul once proffered with such ferocity? It’s still there intermittently — “New Cannonball Blues” and the stomper “Caffeinated Consciousness” jerk the wheel into the oncoming traffic of blues rock.
But mostly Nine Types of Light feels like the liquefying of a band, ten years and four albums deep, into the soft tenderness ofpre-middle-age satisfaction. Like, maybe family life sounds pretty good right about now — and it fits them well. Interpreting the album’s title is a dicey proposition, but taken literally, it’s revealing: TV on the Radio have shifted constantly, from the humble visible form of light that brightens the world in their earliest days to the violent gamma explosions of Return to Cookie Mountain, straight to the cosmic light of the sky — a destination not unfamiliar to this band during Dear Science. And here, they return to the earth’s surface, intact, with their eyes open to what’s rightin front of their faces.
They want to be — and have the chops to be — all kinds of bands. And this album has a there-and-back quality, one they couldn’t have pulled off five years ago. TV on the Radio have flashed unknowable cool, have been a troupe for our times, and have shaken their asses to kingdom come. Acquiescenceis no simple trick when you’ve conquered. But then, what’s wrong with a night on the couch with a loved one?