As a music listener, I truly value the art of making an album. Many musicians have adopted the singles method of making albums, which often results in clutter and filler songs. However, there are artists who still make pure albums. Albums that are a collection of songs that work off each other, creating a complete experience. This is one of those artists. This is one of those albums.
TV on the Radio is a little hard to pin down. They’ve been labeled as post-punk, indie rock, funk, scenesters, art rock, and countless other genres. None of these are wrong. If the band is anything, TV on the Radio is diverse. Elements of all these musical genres are very apparent in the group but never consume it. They seem intent on creating a completely new sound that rejects the concept of being boxed in. The core of TV on the Radio was comprised of Tunde Adebimpe (who has the the greatest name to pronounce ever), Dave Sitek, Kyp Malone, Jaleel Burton, and Gerard Smith. Whenever I think of the band, I think of these five amazing musicians. Unfortunately, Gerard passed away last year on April 20th from lung cancer, a week after Nine Types of Light was released.
The first thing you should know about Nine Types of Light is that is the happiest and most uplifting album TV on the Radio has made. The band usually has some very political messages in their music and while some of that is still here, the album is simply more optimistic. It’s danceable in places; serene and calm in others, letting the soul of the band sink in. The album was made after an extensive touring schedule, which left the band a little weary. It’s not surprising that they’re trying something different now. The unique sound of TV on the Radio is still present, just wrapped around a slightly kinder message.
Nine Types of Light starts off inexplicably with “Second Song” (I’ll explain later). This where everything about the album is held, an aria that gives way to the purpose of what is about to come. The song starts off slow and steady, before opening up to hearty command, “every lover on a mission/shift your known position/ into the light”. This is a joyous statement on love, one that is compounded with songs like “Keep Your Heart”, which questions, “How’m I gonna keep your heart?/If the world all falls apart” only to end with the affirmation, “If the world all falls apart/Still, I’m gonna keep your heart”. “You” is a bit more of a downtrodden song about the end of a relationship where the guy is still in love, “I just though you might like to know/You’re the only one I ever loved”. This somewhat continues in “Forgotten”, a more critical view on the fading of love, and in “Killer Crane”, an epic six minutes of losing memories of a loved one. “Will Do”, quite possibly my favorite song on the album, is an outstanding declaration of waiting for the one you love. It is sad song, “I think we’re compatible/I see that you think I’m wrong”, but ultimately it is about truly adoring someone despite it all, “Any time will do, my love/Any time will do, no choice of words will break me from this rule/Any time will do, what choice of words will take me back to you?”
While those songs are mellow and soulful, the rest of the album takes cues from the more exhilarating and pounding music that TV on the Radio is known for. The remaining songs also focus more on the darker side of optimism, acknowledging the hectic world much more than the previously mentioned songs. “No Future Shock”, a dance anthem to the end of the world, and “Repetition” blasts out people’s terrible nature, both offering little solace. “New Cannonball Blues” continues the sentiment of these songs, but adds, “When the truth is spoke/Love’s a workin’/Nothing’s gonna weigh us down”. This bring us back to the good intentioned feelings we were getting earlier. The final song “Caffeinated Consciences” combines both sides of the album, “On optimistic/On overload”. It’s the closest thing to a symbiosis of the two themes of the album. While “Second Song” sets up the content of the album, “Caffeinated Consciences” perfectly defines it’s form, “(Would you believe my life was)/A bed of roses/and rollercoasters”
Nine Types of Light was released alongside a companion film under the same title. The track listing for both is virtually the same, save for the first song on the film is actually placed at the end of the album in order to differentiate the two (thus explaining the “Second Song” being first on the album). The film is a collection of the music videos for each song on the album inter-cut with staged interviews of New Yorkers speaking about dreams, life, the universe, and an all-encompassing connection between them. There is no distinct narrative beyond what the songs produce. I think it is a fantastic way to experience the album.
It is hard to place any one of the TV on the Radio’s albums above the other. Their first album OK Computer (the band consisted of Adebimpe and Sitek at the time) has a DIY charm. Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (which saw the addition of Malone) is a concise album featuring “Staring at the Sun”, one of the band’s best songs. Return to Cookie Mountain (which finally rounded out the band with Burton and Smith) and Dear Science really have the band in full force. Nine Types of Light just happens to be the most recent album that has spoken to me the loudest, on every possible level. Check out TV on the Radio at their website and buy some of their albums. You won’t regret it.