Post-Millennial Tension poster boys TV On The Radio returned last week with their most direct and plaintive record yet, ‘Nine Types of Light’. They stay ahead of the pack with a streamlined formula that still allows them to keep the title of musical pioneers as they dance that fine line between art rock and mainstream acceptance.
Many factors contribute to the decidedly different approach of this album: an extended break from touring and recording, instead focusing on solo projects, recording for the first time in L.A. instead of Brooklyn, as well as simply trying to write about love. All of this culminates in a lush and beautiful album which embodies that spirit from beginning with opener “Second Song” and the following track “Keep Your Heart.” It’s a wonderful and unique way to start things off. Previous albums’ opening salvo has always been one of jittery tension made audible, such as the “ba-ba-ba-ba-ba” of “Halfway Home” off Dear Science. Even Return to Cookie Mountain’s “I Was A Lover” talks about love in the past tense, how they were before the war, and being unable to even make eye contact. Instead they welcome listeners with a vibe that is reminiscent of “House of Cards” by Radiohead—laid back groove with an assured confidence discussing love.
It isn’t until fourth track “No Future Shock” that the TV On The Radio of old rears its head, taking their anxiety about a world hurtling towards entropy and turning it into a tongue-in-cheek dance saying, “shake it like it’s the end of times…do the no future shock!”It has all of the band’s signature elements: strange time signature changes, panicked yet beautifully harmonized vocals, horn flourishes and a hint of danceable beat. Don’t get settled into that groove just yet though. The dance comes to a halt suddenly with the hushed beauty of “Killer Crane.” The longest song and arguably the centerpiece of this album, it encourages one to leave things behind and leave “suddenly unafraid.” It’s the sort of eyes closed moment of zen that the band has only touched upon once with “Family Tree.”The impressionistic lyrics and serene atmosphere would make it fit comfortably next to Radiohead’s “Codex” on a playlist.
The beauty of “Killer Crane” bleeds seamlessly into marvelous lead single “Will Do,” the band’s most obvious love song and one of their finest, most mature songs yet. It has all of the elements of a classic love ballad but is dressed in the sheen and sensibilities of the 21st century, mixing rock, R&B and even a little trip hop. From here the album wades into more familiar waters with the ominous “New Cannonball Blues” mentioning the sound of being dragged to hell and the incredibly catchy shouted repetition of “Repetition.” This is not to say because it is familiar it isn’t of high quality; both songs are welcome additions to cannon, especially “Cannonball.” Standout “deep cut” is ironically “Forgotten,” which returns to more of the tranquil vibe from the first half of the record, except even more infectious melodies—there’s a whistling near the end that is guaranteed to stick with you. It speaks of fleeting love, nuclear winter and it all being “for the summer” in a twisted acceptance of fate.
This sense of resignation can be felt too in closing song “Caffeinated Consciousness” where as the title implies, he is “on optimistic on overload,” shouting the verses, conveying the hyper feeling of his mind, awash with feelings of anxiety about the coming days yet finding reasons to love and live. It’s a pronounced change from previous albums where it seemed like they had apocalypse blinders on. Now the blinders are lifted and while TV On The Radio still has that sense of dread from time to time, when it’s not taking center stage a vibrancy shines through—as if to say all we can do is dance and love in the ashen twilight of end times. After all, as the band says, “would you believe my life was a bed of roses and rollercoasters?” The song is a rush of head-bobbing excitement and ends the album on an energetic high.
Unfortunately the rollercoaster ride continues with shocking news of the tragic passing of bassist and keyboard player Gerard Smith on April 20th. Best wishes go out to this band, who worked their way up from the bottom only to lose a dear friend and crucial band member at the peak of their career. It will be interesting to see how this tragedy affects the band’s music. Prior to this untimely passing one would think the band would continue to create more direct and confident material, shaking some of the ennui of their older material once and for all, but this turn of events might see the band traveling to very dark places when next they record. Regardless, it will be worth checking out because this is one of the most engaging and forward-thinking bands of this early century.
For the complete ‘Nine Types of Light’ experience, make sure to pick up the Deluxe Edition. In addition to access to music videos for every song on the album there are bonus tracks. This includes the fascinating track “All Falls Down” where the opening vocals sound like the disembodied voice of deceased Type O Negative singer Peter Steele and eventually transforms into one of the most upbeat and fun sounding songs from these sessions. There’s also the fantastic Switch Remix of “Will Do” and the complete throwaway XXXChange Dancehall Mix of “Will Do.” The iTunes version has yet another unreleased tracked titled “Troubles.” Any way you choose to consume the album you can’t go wrong. It’s one of the best albums of the year thus far.
Written by Jarad Matula