18 April 2011

TV on the Radio, 9 Types of Light (2011): Album Review

TV on the Radio has consistently cranked out well-reviewed albums packed with catchy, socially conscious songs that have established the quintet as one of the most potent

art-rock bands of the last decade. Yet despite SNL appearances, incredible melodies, and a member that resembles a perpetually stoned teddy bear, the band has failed to join the ranks of other contemporary indie giants like Arcade Fire. 9 Types of Light, TVOTR’s most recent record, is the latest in a string of excellent albums that will be adored by many, but fail to thrust the band into headlining status.

Like their previous work, 9 Types of Light is full of intricately layered tracks that incorporate funk, horns, hand-claps, industrial bangs, angular guitars, triple layered vocals, driving drums, and plenty other crafty sound effects that offer the band an incredibly expansive soundscape. On this album, producer/ guitarist/ token white member Dave Sitek effectively incorporates these sounds into songs that are less dense, but just as engaging as anything else the band has released. By allowing the tracks to breath, the songs are more patient and less jittery. That isn’t to say this album is boring however, just smoother. This new approach reflects the band’s move from the densely packed Brooklyn to the sprawled-out Los Angeles, where the album was recorded. When compared to previous albums, the more subdued tracks comprising 9 Types of Lights are essentially the same as other TVOTR songs, but without the claustrophobic static. I found myself nodding with the majority of the album and the songs are generally more dance-friendly because of the omission of certain production eccentricities. But the new production approach isn’t the only change from the band’s last album. The lyrics are much more straightforward and the love songs are more traditional. Sexy too.

The cynicism that defined earlier TVOTR love ballads is absent; in its place is a healthy serving of sincere, plainspoken romanticism. The track “You” has the line, “You're the only one I ever loved.” “Will Do” has Adibempe crooning, “I'd love to collapse with you/ And ease you against this song” (D’awwwwwwww). Other album highlights include the up-tempo “Repetition,” a song that charges throughout and eventually crescendos with a cyclic chorus. “Caffeinated Consciousness” is an enjoyable track that includes arena-tuned guitars and lyrics like “Gone optimistic/ We're gonna survive.” In fact, this album is decidedly more positive than previous offerings, and marks the band’s most accessible work to date. Album opener “Second Song” aptly conveys this spirit and is another standout track. Overall, this album is a completely new TV on the Radio record, both in terms of sound and content; yet it is undeniably an album made by the same guys that put out Dear Science, Return to Cookie Mountain, and Desperate Youths, Bloodthirsty Babes. I always enjoy seeing bands shift and grow, and it appears that TVOTR is in a healthy period of change; one that sees the band maintaining their core elements, while shifting themes and adding a new layer of accessibility through their lyrics and sonic clarity. Nearly every track is solid, and I was rarely bored – something I can’t say for Dear Science. Definitely check this out if you are a fan of the band, or good music in general.

RIP Gerard Smith

TV On The Radio's bassist, Gerard Smith, passed away on April 20th, 2011 after battling lung cancer. He was 36 years old. The band announced his passing on their website and added, "We will miss him terribly."

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