TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light (2011)
by Jay Mattson
The opening moments of Nine Types of Light is telling of the rest of the album. Unlike previous TV on the Radio releases, there is no grand musical build-up. Instead, Tunde Adebimpe’s vocals spring forth with such prowess that it nearly drowns out the instrumentation. This technique is evident throughout the new album and, unfortunately, it fiercely detracts from the overall quality of Nine Types of Light. Early reviews and previews have shed some light on the slower, deeper style TVOTR have taken on this album, the reasons behind it, and what it means for the future of the band. One could write in length about the complexity of TVOTR’s musical growth, but for now let’s just say that this could be considered their “acoustic” album; the most minimal and arguably most cohesive to date.
Nine Types of Light is a good album, but it is TV on the Radio’s weakest work. Instead of inventive instrumentation playing off Adebimpe and Kyp Malone’s vocal magic, it attempts to raise the volume on vocals and scale back the size of the music, an equation that adds up to a rather boring, forgettable collection of songs. Instead of blitzkrieg tracks like “Dancing Choose” or even mellower songs like “Family Tree”, TVOTR finds the lowest common denominator that their unique style allows, and runs with it. “Keep Your Heart” is another good example of how NToL sounds. It’s mostly a meandering guitar track that never really goes anywhere despite the build-up, if you could even call it that.
“You” is the first song on the album that gives the audience something to move their head to, albeit to a very slow beat. And I really, really wanted to like “No Future Shock” – which boasts an upbeat, seemingly classic TVOTR sound – but then it turned into an undecipherable mess of instruments and vocals never quite finding middle ground.
Nine Types of Light gets a little better as it moves forward, in that it switches things up from vocals front-and-forward-24-7. Around the halfway point, instrumentation starts making a bit of a comeback, though not so much as to overshadow the vocals. And when you think you’ve made it to the better part of the album, you get a breakdown on “Repetition” that simply goes “My repetition; my repetition is this; my repetition; my repetition is this” for the next 45 seconds. And while I can appreciate the irony behind this technique, it still grates on me musically. The concept is tiring too.
“Caffeinated Consciousness” is the only really fun part of the album’s latter half, and it’s a great song. It has a good mixture of instruments and vocals complementing each other instead of fighting for center stage. It also reverts to a more grimy sound, one that I miss from TV on the Radio. It’s a sound that barely even made it’s way onto Dear Science three years ago.
If you’re a TV on the Radio fan, you’ll find something to like on this album; there is enough variety in the songs that at least one will speak to you, even if all the others don’t. If you’ve never listened to TVOTR, don’t let Nine Types of Light be your first exposure. While I was in Korea in 2010, a friend of mine explained to me that he didn’t like TV on the Radio because he found their music boring. I told him to wait for the new album, that it would blow us all away because they’ve been on hiatus waiting to come back in full force. Unfortunately, this album feels half-assed, undercooked and simply boring.