TV On the Radio is yet another offspring of the prolific New York music scene, which has given birth to many genre pioneers such as The Strokes, Vampire Weekend and the late LCD Soundsystem. TV On the Radio has formed its own stylistic niche characterized by multi-fusion endeavors. They delve into jazzy realms, relinquish post-punk-inspired energetic drives and deliver soulful, funky rhythms and melodies. There’s simply not one distinct genre that best encompasses their musical style. They just let their art rock project carry them in the next direction. However, this hasn’t always proven to be the most ideal method for them in the past.
While their career has given way to such masterful albums as 2008’s Dear Science, which received numerous critics’ picks for top album of the year, their discography also contains some mediocre moments. Now, with Nine Types of Light, their first album since Science, TV On the Radio continues in the direction of stunning musical fusion and crafty writing and arrangements but also loses some of the momentum that they created with the previous album by intermixing high points with less resounding moments.
From an exterior view, TV On the Radio padded Nine Types of Light with triumphant opening and closing tracks. With “Second Song,” the album’s opening track, Tunde Adebimpe, the band’s lead vocalist, begins the delayed forward motion with his typical unique vocals over light keys. This leads into controlled, muffled guitar picking from Kyp Malone and the entrance of subdued drums. But not long after the paced entrance of the band, the song takes a new direction with the emergence of a tight bass and drum groove. It’s followed by Malone’s signature mighty falsetto, delivering a wonderfully funky chorus reminiscent of the Bee Gee’s ‘Stayin’ Alive” but with a blatant TV On the Radio twist. Horns and saxes propel the rest of the song to possibly one of the strongest moments on the album.
The album closes with an equal bang with “Caffeinated Consciousness,” a fittingly titled track overflowing with force and energy. Adebimpe’s unyielding yells build perfectly on top of the sharp guitar riff driving the song. The chorus takes a turn towards a more melodic sound, with smooth, peaceful vocals over light drums and pleasing guitars, directly hitting the band’s unique and effective melodic writing structure. The song displays two very distinct areas of the band’s musical style: raw energy and distinctly gorgeous melodies.
The eight inner tracks of the album take many different forms. Some of them are great tracks that add new dimensions to the band’s archive. Songs like “Keep Your Heart” and “Will Do” beautifully convey the band’s ability to deliver huge songs brimming with melodic texture and instrumental drive. The unmistakable falsetto of Malone and low-registered murmurs of Adebimpe provide so much to the songs, but the subtle yet explosive drums and guiding bass lines play such a crucial role in their song structures.
But, in the midst of these splendid tracks, the album does contain some moments of fluff and filler material. In its attempts to repeat the consistency of Dear Science, Nine Types of Light plays out more like Return to Cookie Mountain, TV On the Radio’s 2006 release that contains many of their finest tracks to date. These include many such as the frantic “Wolf Like Me,” but also contains some less striking down moments and less consistency. The middle tracks in Nine Types of Light are by no means dull or poorly written; they just don’t exude the brilliance of the band like some of their other tracks do.
Admittedly, the band does create music that is more difficult to immediately digest than many other bands, so a first listen does little justice to their music; it never has, and it still doesn’t. Their music, as a result of further listens, grows on a person more and more over time. So there’s no certainty as to the final verdict of this album. However, what is certain is that, while the album might initially lack the unmistakable radiance of previous releases, it is brimming with potential and contains many intricacies waiting to be further explored. TV On the Radio is one of the more exciting musical acts out today, and Nine Types of Light is a solid listen well worth pursuing.