Los Angeles is a cold place, even in the middle of summer. That speaks not of the weather itself, but more the vibe of a city that’s consistently drenched in sunshine and oceanside views. The West Coast does things differently than everywhere else, and depending on your intentions, that’s either a positive or a negative. For those venturing out to Hollywood with stars in their eyes, the unflinching reality of consistent rejection by casting agents the city over can be harder than the minimum wage job waiting tables they had to take on to make ends meet in the meantime. But you’ve also got the vacationing crowd, with plenty of people just seeking out some nice weather and relaxation in a place that has both far more often than anywhere else in the country. When talking about TV on the Radio, it seems they went to L.A. for a little bit of both business and pleasure. The band took a break from recording and touring for awhile to both decompress and also pursue other opportunities. Kyp Malone revived his old project Rain Machine, Dave Sitek produced music for other artists in addition to putting out a solo record as Maximum Balloon while also working at least part time with Jane’s Addiction, while Tunde Adebimpe got bit at least for a moment by the acting bug and had a couple of more minor movie roles. Interesting, the paths each one of the band’s principal members took on their time off. To finish off their hiatus/vacation, the guys met up in the City of Angels and decided to stick around for a bit at Sitek’s studio to record their follow-up to “Dear Science”. Stepping away from their home base in Brooklyn, the new album “Nine Types of Light” is accurately reflective of the change in location and atmosphere a new city brings while keeping many of the TV on the Radio trademarks that has made them one of the most critically acclaimed bands of the past decade.
The first most noticeable thing about “Nine Types of Light” from the very beginning is its brighter outlook. “Every lover on a mission/shift your know position/into the light”, Malone sings in the chorus of opening track “Second Song”, right as the pace picks up and the horn section joins in. Of course it takes its sweet time getting to that chorus, sauntering at a very subdued level like the darkness before the dawn. Similarly, “Keep Your Heart” doesn’t even get your blood pressure to rise moving at such a glacial pace. With so many albums frontloaded with energy and potential singles, TV on the Radio sure kick that notion right in the teeth here. There’s even lyrical similarities with “Second Song”, as a line like, “Shine on light of love” reflects backwards onto the album title and the romance theme that’s been a TVOTR staple from the very beginning. What’s noticeably missing from “Nine Types of Light” are the angrier, politically charged moments along with some of the darker meditations on life, love and history. Then again, with all its ups and downs, love appears to be the overarching theme of the record. A song like “You” looks back on a past relationship with rose-colored glasses, expressing disappointment that things ended but with the kind reflection of, “You’re the only one I ever loved”. The only thematic variation in the first half of the record comes from “No Future Shock”, a high energy, potential future single that gets purposely overreactive and sarcastic about fearmongers consistently anticipating disasters. Though it may not fit in with the surrounding tracks, it does offer a brief respite from what would otherwise be a severely dragging start to the album. Though it may be very calm to the point where you might just fall asleep during it, the album centerpiece is the 6+ minute “Killer Crane”, a gorgeous piece of music that incorporates everything from banjo to acoustic guitar and strings. It makes for one of the most interesting pieces that TV on the Radio have ever done, serenely drifting on a placid lake of sound with hints of psychedelia and the majesty of a creature most of us know precious little about.
Though the second half of the album starts with the somewhat plodding “Will Do”, the song itself rises above its tempo for something a bit more special and heartfelt than some of the most earnest moments that happened on the first half. The catchy chorus, with its jagged guitar line and light plinks of keyboard also help make the impassioned lyrics have that much more weight and general pop. The way that “New Cannonball Blues” develops from a mid-tempo blues (duh) number into more of a turbulent and forceful track makes it one of the more actively engaging cuts on the album. It’s the hornet’s nest of horns that helps to sell it, along with the voracity that “Forgotten” offers up. There’s something inherently fiery with “Repetition” as well, going with the mile-a-minute lyrics until the final push home, when the guitars freak out and Adebimpe digs in hard as he spits out, “My repetition/my repetition is this” a good two dozen times in a row, each with more urgency than the last. Where it all comes together though is at the album’s conclusion, which according to tradition is about the last place you should be looking. If there’s a “Staring at the Sun” or a “Wolf Like Me” or a “Golden Age” on this record, it is closer “Caffeinated Consciousness”. The guitars pound, Adebimpe shouts, the bass thumps, and there’s enough of a groove to get you on your feet and dancing. There’s talk of optimism, rollercoasters, and beds of roses, all designed for sensory overload in the most fun way possible. There’s an album closing party, and TV on the Radio have invited you to it. As nice as having a half dozen or more songs like “Caffeinated Consciousness” on “Nine Types of Light” might be, it’s also largely what the band has become known for. There’s nothing particularly adventurous about the track itself, so having it once as a joyous finale is good enough and prevents us from getting too much of a good thing.
If you didn’t know it already, TV on the Radio have been on a serious hot streak straight from their debut album “Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes”. The 1-2-3 combination of that, “Return to Cookie Mountain” and “Dear Science” is the first real trio of near perfection since Radiohead’s run of “The Bends”, “OK Computer” and “Kid A”. Funny then that Radiohead too released a very understated and underwhelming record this year. “Nine Types of Light” is the first “blemish” to hit TV on the Radio, though the word is in quotes because most bands would love to put out a record this good. Within their own cannon however, this is their weakest effort to date. Among the positive things it has to offer, it’s still lyrically strong, with the topic of love gluing everything together pretty well. The optimism is nice too, though it primarily fails to make much of anything bright and sunny instrumentally. Still, there’s plenty of great moments on this album, particularly in the second half that has more going on in it. The slower moments in portions of the first part of the record are what’s most taxing, but even that’s not exactly a pain to listen through. The warmth and overall intimacy are what help to make it so compelling and worthwhile, even when the melodies don’t seem to. Was it the ocean air and beautiful sunsets that helped mellow these guys out from the urban sprawl that is New York, or did their time off just put them all in a more lackadaisical and comfortable place? This is the first TV on the Radio album to shift largely away from bitterness and anger and more towards hope. Good for the band – they could use more of that stuff in their lives.