Crash Thursday: TV On the Radio - Nine Types of Light
Origin: Brooklyn, NY
TV On The Radio has been Brooklyn's answer to experimental rock for some years now, laying somewhat deep on the underground circuit until reaching what is undoubtedly their closest mainstream album, Dear Science, only three years ago. There's a good reason why they had finally hit the mainstream: their eclectic and wide range of styles has proven them to be a great force in turning rock on its head, and their music up to this point has been nothing but transcendent.
I honestly chalk this up to Brooklyn and their location. It's a kind of scene that allows for true verbal expression and pulse-pounding beats that properly blend together and take the necessary steps to mix and match the appropriate sounds. Now with a new decade on our hands, they've offered us Nine Types of Light, a decidedly subtler album that clearly tones down that Brooklyn sound almost clearly in favor of their new locale on the West Coast. What I mean by that and what it ultimately comes down to is that it's a fine addition of songs to their catalog that will only help to continue their catapult into the public consciousness, but as a cohesive structure it just misses the essence of their previous work and feels rather light (no pun intended).
Let me set the record straight and suggest to you that each one of these songs is great in their own right. I've noticed that TV On The Radio are always best when both their lyrical content and music composition truly find that progression and expand to translate what the band is trying to express. This is no different on Nine Types of Light, except for the fact that the only real common thread here is "love" or the "idea" of it. This is not any new territory for them, as they've done plenty of talk about the meaning of love on previous albums. What it seems to me is that, overtime, that theme becomes such a thin thread holding these songs together. Not only do these songs' initially interesting sounds wear off quick, but each song would feel better fit to be spread amongst their previous albums (as if those albums really needed better balancing to begin with). Examples like "New Cannonball Blues" and "No Future Shock" could easily be songs off of Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, and while they're most certainly good, they do not belong on this record.
"Second Song" starts things off well as a spritely number, but it amps up only to dip into the remaining and much more subdued first-half that takes singer Tunde Adebimpe on his road of love. This is love in the lighter sense of the theme, by the way. Songs "Keep Your Heart" and "You" find softer approaches to love that kind of keep Adebimpe at bay, as if having the listener really just lay back and attempt to approach the sounds at a slight ease. "Killer Crane" goes down an even gentler path, implementing a ballad-like entry of tender instruments and a banjo for shits and giggles.
It's actually almost too light for TV On The Radio, a band who've mixed both this theme with deeper and more thought-provoking ones like war and strife AND have them best represented by their thumping sound. That isn't to say a lighter approach to "love" is inferior or that there's anything wrong with Adebimpe going for this route because he tells it in a way that radiates with us. My conflict here is with their establishment of prior sounds that took them to grander places in more eloquent ways. I could understand if the aim was to build upon the theme by really changing the sounds to emulate those feelings, but in the end, this is TV On The Radio playing "love," and it ends up missing the point.
Perhaps the true centerpiece of Nine Types of Light is "Will Do". This song defies the above factors and represents exactly what TV On The Radio are best at, while at the same time really translating the slower beats to match the lyrics. It's got a very nice hook that takes it to the level of "TVOTR's Best Songs Ever" and it's the album real eye-opener as far as I'm concerned. It also starts a second-half that sounds like a completely different album, which almost makes me wonder why they didn't decide to go this path instead. The overall placement of "New Cannonball Blues" along with "Repetition" and "Forgotten" take a much more recognizable sound that, regardless of theme, they take on a quality that fits naturally in TVOTR's ballpark. Even if the songs do sound like they're coming off their other records, it's these moments that allow for comfort. I'm not suggesting that I don't "understand" the first half because it's "strange" or isn't comfortable - I'm merely suggesting that TVOTR play it best when they're on point.
This is by no means a misstep for TV On The Radio, but it's just a little overcooked. You've got a first-half that's soft-spoken and hanging on the same thread with the same sounds, and then you've got a second-half that makes a little more sense yet really swims in all the spectrums of their catalog. It's sort of all over the place for an album whose parts are better than a whole, and it may take a few listens on songs to really let them sink in. If anything, "Will Do" will be the song I come back to time and time again, really sticking out as one of TVOTR's best efforts. Nine Types of Light on its own will remain rather staggered, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't listen to these songs that have their full merits on their own grounds.
(The Deluxe Edition of the album also includes the bonus track "All Falls Down" and two remixes of "Will Do")
TV On The Radio - "Will Do"
TV On The Radio - "Second Song"
Nine Types of Light is available now on Interscope Records.