Pop Addict: TV on the Radio’s Nine Types of Light

Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

TV on the Radio: Nine Types of LightTV on the Radio: Nine Types of Light (Interscope, 4/11/11)

TV on the Radio: “Caffeinated Consciousness”

[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/TV-On-The-Radio-Caffeinated-Consciousness.mp3|titles=TV on the Radio: “Caffeinated Consciousness”]

In 2009, TV on the Radio announced that it was taking a break. After years of crafting futuristic, genre-bending soundscapes, the band had decided to take a step back, take a breather, and entertain other endeavors. However, after several critically acclaimed albums, the decision to split seemed sudden and a bit disappointing. After all, the hiatus was announced not too long after the release of the band’s arguably best achievement, Dear Science, a showcase of everything from relentless outer-space indie to beat-infused dance pop, computerized schizophrenia, and soft atmospherics. But it actually looks as though the break did some good: the band has returned rejuvenated and self-assured with its latest effort, Nine Types of Light.

From the onset of the new album, TV on the Radio comes off as revitalized and refreshed. Downplayed is the frantic, fast-paced rock gems that usually sit atop the track lists of albums past. Instead, the band ushers in softer, sophisticated melodies — more mindful of arrangements than how many different noises can be jammed into a track. The first three songs are lighter and more delicate (but still showcase the band’s signature multi-instrumental tendencies), as if the band was in a very good place when the songs were written. But TV on the Radio’s strongest suit has always been molding all of its musical differences together and shaping them into one cohesive sound. Nine Types of Light continues that trend seamlessly.

It isn’t until the fourth song, “Future Shock,” that the band’s multifaceted, signature sound starts to emerge on a more prominent platform. But even then, the roughness is more subdued, reflective. Its edges seem smoother — polished, even — and it quickly becomes clear that there is a calm, rest-assured confidence emerging from the album. The members of TV on the Radio know exactly what they’re doing — and that they’re doing it well.

For the entirety of album, the band successfully straddles the line of soft-tempered lovesick-ness (“Keep Your Heart” and “Killer Crane”) and panicked, rocked-out bliss (“Caffeinated Consciousness” and “New Cannonball Run”). The songs roll and swell, from melodious and intimate to heaving and frenetic. The exceptional “Will Do” finds the best of both worlds, mixing in distorted lead guitars with symphonic string arrangements. And though it’s mellower, the song’s relentless drums propel it forward, and it successfully balances on the line between softness and loudness.

The softer, more reflective side has always been one of TV on the Radio’s greatest tools in its music. However, unlike its past albums, this tempered approach takes on a more prominent role throughout Nine Types of Light, becoming the main artery of the album, rather than a few random capillaries. The shift is a favorable one for the band, and it works well with its vision going forward. It’s possible that recent events have helped the band to put some things in perspective. (Bass player Gerard Smith recently lost a battle to lung cancer.) Indeed, the calmer, more subdued side of Nine Types of Light reflects a band that has grown, that has aged well, and that has been hurt and healed, lost and found. If the band’s brief sabbatical was indeed the cause of harnessing such sensibilities in its music, another hiatus might be just what it needs before its next record.

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