Wednesday, May 18, 2011

TV on the Radio- Nine Types of Light REVIEW

I will preface this article by confessing that, while enjoying TV on the Radio’s previous 2008 album, Dear Science, I was nonetheless underwhelmed by it as a whole. Science made me yearn for the messy, organic funk of Return to Cookie Mountain- an album that somehow rendered spatial detachment immensely rewarding. Though I understand the plaudits heaped on Dear Science, I still found the experience to be oddly conditioned and at times pedantic. As toe-tappingly frantic as it was, it felt much too station-to-station for a band so capable of surprises. Despite each of these stations being remarkably produced and technically glossy, Dear Science seemed to insist upon itself, “This is our In Rainbows moment! Our sound has crystallized!” It was undeniably catchy- one of the catchiest albums I've ever heard- but only for the sake of catchiness.

I’m obviously being a little harsh on Dear Science- especially because the album itself is very good. But Return to Cookie Mountain did not indicate a band that was interested in being very good- it indicated a band dedicated to exploding. And while TV on the Radio is likely to remain extraordinary, they are also the type of band capable of delivering something misguided and awful. All the stars seemed to be aligned for an epic misfire. So with great trepidation I approached Nine Types of Light.

Nine Types of Light is the type of album Dear Science should have been. Unfortunately, it needed Dear Science to first exist (Okay for the last time- I’m done piling it on Dear Science- I really enjoyed it, but I only enjoyed it). We are still a far cry from the beautiful mischief of Mountain, but Light represents a band intent on streamlining a collective theme. As per usual, the band does not skimp on instruments- pianos, banjos, mellotrons, trumpets, guitars all abound with the usual flourish. Light uses this ensemble to resuscitate the overt, doo-wop mentality evident on it's freshman LP, Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes, and give it a new direction. There has often been a dark undertone to most of the love songs in TV on the Radio’s catalogue- be it conveyed via reluctance, skepticism, or outright schizophrenia. But Light does something more interesting. It adds a shade of hope to the romanticism while still maintaining that trademark dark undertone. Tunes like “Second Song”, “Keep Your Heart”, and “Will Do” indicate a post-cynicism. Whereas previous albums were all about existing within the moment, Light suggests a reliable inevitability. On “Keep Your Heart”, Tunde Adebimpe croons, “Keep your heart/even if the whole world falls apart”. Later on “No Future Shock”, we are told in his best “Dancing Choose” impression to, “Do the No Future/do the No Future”. Elsewhere on "Repetition" we are asked "What's the matter with your next door neighbor?/An act of God, a freak of nature." Call it Fatalist Romanticism- but the guys from Brooklyn are definitely on new ground here.

Light is a tremendously consistent effort. If anything, it’s a little too consistent- offering fewer signifying landmarks among the tracklist. It lacks the enjoyable discomfort of Mountain, but it is also devoid of Science’s calculated packaging. However, Light boasts an independent confidence. Essentially, this is the first TV on the Radio album that stands firmly on it’s own. It may not be as ambitious as I hoped- but one thing’s for sure, it does stand firm.

TV On The Radio - Nine Types Of Light by Interscope Records


  1. I was considering writing a review of this album as well but after listening to it a few times I really didn't know where to even start with it. I think you summed it up pretty good and alot better then I would have. It is an album that is decent and you will listen but not an album that will have you coming back to over and over. I do really enjoy the song Will Do though I can listen to that song over and over but to me it almost seems like a seperate entity when I compare it to the whole album.

  2. First off, Nine Types of Lights is certainly an ambitious album. It just strips away much of the excess from earlier efforts, particularly Return to Cookie Mountain, and considerably refining their palette as a result. Return to Cookie Mountain is brilliant, but far from the holy grail it is often exaggerated to be. Without the dense, craggy production, the songs are often structurally hollow and inconsistent. This is the reason Dear Science and, now, Nine Types of Light are much stronger efforts. The songwriting is much more focused, confident and developed. The production is cleaner and smoother, but retaining the labyrinthine intricacy of before. Noisier doesn't mean better. Lengthier doesn't mean more ambitious. Dear Science and Nine Types of Light say everything they need to in a more concise manner, with barely a pause, and thus are the band's crowning jewels.

  3. appreciate the comments Michael. For me it is hard to pick a straight up winner out of all the albums, I seem to go back and forth between Dear Science and Return to Cookie Mountain.