After a year long hiatus, TV on the Radio’s (TVOTR) latest album, released April 12, features musings of the heart at its center, providing an entirely new perspective from the rock group that is so customarily attentive to cultural critique.
Nine Types of Light showcases TVOTR’s persistent experimentation and cultural subversion at its core, but it contrasts the band’s most recent highly-acclaimed albums, Return to Cookie Mountain (2006) and Dear Science (2008). It translates on first listen almost like serene pop/r&b meditation but the production reveals a deeper tone: the simplicity of the lyrics (still reasonably mutinous) mixed with the variant reverberations, effects, and genre play, display a minimalist quality that speaks volumes to the complexity of restraint. This is most evident on tracks, “Keep Your Heart,” and, “You,” where vocals range from an almost sung-spoken baritone to ethereal falsetto, juxtaposed with a gracefully simple mesh of instrumentation. "Second Song" is a call to listeners and lovers alike to “shift their minds to the light,” while pulsating drum beats and resounding trumpets keep the keen ear alert. “Will Do,” the first single released off the album is reminiscent of TVOTR’s signature style, and is probably the finest example of the synthesis between TVOTR’s complex production abilities and their new love-themed direction because it compromises the two musical identities most evenly.
More dance and beat heavy tracks include “New Cannonball Blues” and “No Future Shock,” and will please those that enjoyed Dear Science. On “Caffeinated Consciousness,” they fuse funk, soul, and electronic sounds. The funk incorporation is a comfortable addition to their production that elevates fairly basic vocals to something completely melodic, danceable, and sexy. This sexiness saturates their track “Forgotten,” which beams soul and funk, with effortless verses and intricate choruses highlighting string cameos.
Vocalists Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone sustain a spectrum of powerful and ethereal tones throughout the album, and shine on “Keep Your Heart,” and “Killer Crane.” It’s clear the new restrained sound that drives Nine Types of Light is an evolution for TVOTR. “Killer Crane” repeats in its chorus, “transformation,” and plays as a new-day anthem: “And after all/ We're free to fall/ Once all the pain goes/ And how we stood/ And what was good/ Could lie us all along/ In isolation/ A transformation.” TVOTR have transformed themselves in honor of their subject matter, creating an affective exploration of love, with simple lyrics and focused production. The success here is in TVOTR’s skill in controlling their musicality, redefining their signature style in new ways, and creating a cohesive project that engages the listener, but doesn’t overwhelm.