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TV on the Radio- Nine Types of Light (Album Review)

June 6, 2011

Three years ago Dear Science took the indie world by storm, taking the number one spot on many year-end Best of 2008 music lists. The band went on hiatus after touring, but surfaced a year and a half later to announce plans to release a new album. The first single, “Will Do,” was released February 23; “Caffeinated Consciousness” was released March 10.

Nine Types of Light exhibited a quintessential growth and maturity in the bands’ songwriting and overall sound. TV on the Radio always stood out for having powerful thought-provoking lyrics and for taking a more artistic approach to composing its music, but Nine Types of Light sounds more cohesive and accessible. Some fans have referred to it as the band’s “R&B album,” but to boil it down to that description is underestimating its brilliance and complexity.

The album is considerably toned down compared to Dear Science. The song structures are more conventional, but the band’s idiosyncrasies and charm aren’t compromised. The album opens with the ironically titled and funky “Second Song,” which leads into the subdued love songs “Keep Your Heart” and “You.” Some fans criticized the change in style as a sign of weakness from the band. But in selfishness and delusion, fans sometimes forget that an artist isn’t entitled to stick to one style or approach to songwriting. TV on Radio, like many artists, intend to show fans that it isn’t a one-trick-pony and that it is capable of defying typical expectations.

The band dives deep into funk on “New Cannonball Blues,” possibly one of the best songs of its career. Tunde paints a vivid picture of heartbreak and emotional turmoil as he sings “Got me singing blues that hit you like a cannonball/Loud enough to break your bones/But it was written in blood before they wrote it in stone/So sing it with me like it’s your own.” The horn section that kicks in at the song’s climax is funky enough to make Rick James jealous.

TV on the Radio sheds its rambunctious experimentation on the folk gem “Killer Crane,” showing a tenderness and vulnerability not shown before. The tear-jerking music video accompanying the song in the Nine Types of Light film, (released with the deluxe edition of the album) shows the band hanging out on tour and on the road. Featured throughout the video is bassist/keyboardist Gerard Smith who sadly passed away on April 20th after losing his battle to lung cancer.

Lead single, “Will Do,” is one of the band’s most soulful songs to date, a mid-tempo track about being patient with new love. The energy picks up again with “Repetition,” an electrifying jam that encompasses the spirit of New York’s afropunk movement. “Caffeinated Consciousness” is an alternative rock throwback, easily fitting in with the body of songs released in the early 1990s from bands like Living Colour and Jane’s Addiction (who guitarist Dave Sitek joined in 2010).

Nine Types of Light isn’t like TV on the Radio’s other albums, and that is what partially makes it great. All good artists grow and evolve over the course of their career. A music career is something organic; artists are living breathing people who grow, mature, and evolve. Indie music fans are often very critical about what music should or should not sound like. But the same tired complaints of later albums not sounding like “the first two albums” are beyond cliché and predictable. Art is forever changing, and that’s the way it should be. TV on the Radio could have released Return to Cookie Mountain II if it wanted to, but it would have most likely garnered the same complaints King of Limbs got for Radiohead. Great artists don’t limit their creativity, not even for their fans. Inevitably, we are all listening in on their journey. It’s your choice to come along or not.

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