TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light
Record Label: Interscope
Release Date: April 12, 2011
Nine Types of Light, huh? Four years spent studying physics, ultimately earning a degree in it, and I’d never heard anything about “types” of light, never mind how many there are. Frantic Google searches revealed nothing enlightening—and if Google doesn’t know, it’s a safe bet that no one does. Then I find out that there is, in fact, no deeper meaning behind the title of the new TV on the Radio album. Way to lead me on. But maybe I’ve learned something here, for if the record does indeed represent nine types of light, it’s safe to say I now know exactly how many there are: nine. Light, more than anything I’ve heard lately, sounds complete and self-contained, and like most of the TV on the Radio catalog, it largely transcends genre. No other context is necessary. Nine Types of Light simply is what it is.
The first thing anyone will probably tell you about Nine Types of Light is that it’s an album of love songs. Indeed, the word “love” appears in the lyrics of almost every song on the album. It’s fitting that a band whose sound lends itself to such wide-ranging appeal should pick an equally universal subject of focus. The next thing they’ll probably tell you is that these songs are slightly slower and more subdued, and there is a little less buzzing noise. None of these changes can obscure the fact that it’s still the same old TV on the Radio, which is a very good thing. The vocal team of Tunde Adepimbe and Kyp Malone once again delivers in a big way, conveying their rare brand of soul with that elusive combination of force and subtlety. At their core, the songs are all shiny pop tunes with huge hooks, but as we’ve come to expect from the band’s music, there’s no shortage of rewards for the careful listener, in the form of catchy but intricate rhythms, layers of synths, earworm-y guitar lines, and the occasional flirtation with skronky horn orchestrations. While the ballads—especially the heart-stopping “Keep Your Heart”—are unequivocally successful, the inclusion of some muscle in the form of the frenzied, danceable “No Future Shock” and the jazzy, half-rapped “Caffeinated Consciousness” smartly keep the mood light and prevent the album from being bogged down with sentimentality.
Ultimately, Nine Types of Light is a grown-up album. More than ever, Adepimbe and the gang seem concerned with permanence. “I’ll defend my love forever,” he sings on “Second Song”. On “Keep Your Heart”, it’s “How am I gonna keep your heart if the whole world falls apart?” “You” finds him imploring, “You’re the only one I ever loved.” These aren’t half-hearted lies told to score a quick fuck. There’s genuine warmth and intimacy here, something you don’t hear too much of in rock music, much less “indie rock”—and for good reason, as these things often come off as schmaltzy and cloying. That TV on the Radio pull it off so triumphantly is a true testament to their talents. The list of bands who have risen from underground upstarts to major-label A-listers without sacrificing an ounce of credibility is mighty exclusive. For me, the well pretty much runs dry after the first name, Modest Mouse. With Nine Types of Light, TV on the Radio strengthen the case for their name being added to the conversation.