Saturday, May 7, 2011

TV On The Radio- Nine Types Of Light

TV On The Radio have never wandered far into abstraction, and I think that's a crucial part of why their appeal is more far reaching than many of their indie peers. Even at their darkest, most experimental, and/or most strange, there's always a wink or a half-smile behind the music to keep it resonant, but also, less pretentious. In fact, TV On The Radio are as lacking of pretense as any band ever, so calling Nine Types Of Light their 'love' album is a little lazy. All of their albums have a lot of songs about love, and anyway, they aren't the type to (knowingly) make a concept album. I think it's more that this time out, the politics and social commentary take a backseat. It would be more apt to call this their West Coast/California album.

Fellow former-New Yorkers Liars also recorded an album out that way, last year's Sisterworld. It had the strangest sound of any of their records, welding a glistening sheen to grimy noise, thus at times sounding like a musical complement to American Psycho's “fancy, upper crust 80s culture meets terrible, disgusting violence” atmosphere. Nine Types Of Light, however, ends up being more like an easygoing sequel to Dear Science. Well, if anyone deserves to enjoy the warm weather and persistent sun of California, it's TV On The Radio. Mind you, this was the band who spent two albums with urban East Coast post-turn-of-the-millenium, post-9/11 darkness and paranoia, not to mention appropriately gothic 4AD cover art. Some of the lyrics on Nine Types Of Lightmay prove that TV On The Radio didn't find only warm weather and sunshine out West, but this record lacks any song one could remotely consider dark or experimental.

Which is also the key flaw of Nine Types Of Light. There's no grit or contrast to all of the prettiness, the hooks, the bright blasts of horns, and the grandiose strings. It's like listening to a rose with no thorns; as a result, there's nothing to really stick with you as much as their other albums did. It doesn't help that this is also the first time where the band seem content to sound like their last release. They may not be going in circles and doubling back on the tracks they laid down with Dear Science, but they are certainly still following those tracks, albeit a little off to the side, perpendicular style. Or perhaps it's better to describe this as a victory lap kind of album? Anyway, the hooks, near-top-of-the-game vocal arrangements, and funk of Dear Science are still there, just not as heavy and ambitious as they were last time. Furthermore, since this is an easygoing album, I sometimes get the impression they aren't trying as hard as a result. Album closer 'Caffeinated Consciousness' strikes me as one of their weakest tracks ever, neither providing a satisfying end to the record nor doing much with its basic groove.

In spite of this, TV On The Radio still manage to turn in a pretty good record. Yes, this is the highest praise I can give it: it's a pretty good record. Nine Types Of Light doesn't try to be, and doesn't feel, as “important” and era defining as their previous work. The stakes seem lower this time out; 'New Cannonball Blues' demonstrates that their gift for production and musical arrangements is as sharp as ever, yet the song never reaches the euphoric peak you keep anticipating. Elsewhere, the hip hop delivery of “my repetition/my repetition is this” on the aptly titled 'Repetition' really needs more grit and raw-ness to work properly. Dear Science was as inviting and pop-oriented as this record but the rhythms and harder edged funk rang true. Nine Types Of Lightseems completely smoothed over, comparable to the difference between the harder, more experimental mid 70s jazz fusion of Miles Davis versus the ease and sleepy pastels which would pass for most artists' fusion in the 80s. Nine Types Of Light is the sound of air conditioned rooms, newly paved parking lots, and people in business attire eating at the outdoor tables of expensive restaurants in the mellow late afternoon sun.

Not that there is anything inherently wrong with any of those things, just as there is nothing inherently wrong with a rose with no thorns. Still, after a year off and three since the last album, you'd think they would've reminded us why we give them so many accolades instead of taking a victory lap and chilling out West.

4 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

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