Album Review: Nine Types of Light - TV On The Radio

Back when I reviewed TV On The Radio's last album, Dear Science, I claimed it to be the band's career highlight to date. It's a statement I'd stand by, and yet I still can't help but feel that of their first three albums proper (I'm disregarding the self-released demo OK Calculator from 2002 as it's tricky to come by) it is still Return To Cookie Mountain that I always come back to. That record's bass-heavy, stuttering electronic production still sounds thrilling and fresh, and there are several tracks on that album ('I Was a Lover', 'Province', 'Wolf Like Me' and 'Dirtywhirl') that continue to mean far more to me than anything on its follow-up. As great as a record Dear Science is, it just didn't feel quite like the TV On The Radio that I loved.

Nine Types of Light was released a few weeks back now and I can safely safe it answers the concerns I had about the previous record whilst continuing to demonstrate the progression and growth of the band. From the opening bars of 'Second Song' it is patently clear TV On The Radio have still got it, and they haven't lost their ability to open their albums with absolute blinders. It feels like like the sound of a band emerging from the storm still tied to rigging and finding it irresistable to greet the world with anything but a beaming smile. This is a band that have been through some difficult times in recent years and sadly things haven't eased since Nine Types of Light was released, with the passing of the band's bassist, Gerard Smith, last week. Somehow though they still sound positive and in fact, on 'Second Song, complete with its 'ooh oooh' vocals, they sound more positive than ever. A brass backing only further adds to the effect, sounding like a band coming out punching, legs and arms flailing whilst they try and connect.

Perhaps the answer to this new found enthusiasm is the oldest of all, for more than anything else Nine Types of Light is a record about love, as evidenced on the lovelorn 'Keep Your Heart', with the vocalist belting out the words: "I'm gonna keep your heart / if the world falls apart / I'm gonna keep your heart". It's the sound of selfishly putting another first, and you can't help but hope it works out for him.

The theme is revisited several times throughout the album but probably nowhere better than on single 'Will Do', a paean to forbidden or unrequired love that bursts open with a shuddering bass line, to create the most electronic track the band have released since Return To Cookie Mountain. The lyrics betray a man unprepared to let life and love slip through his fingers, almost angry that the subject of his affections would dare waste the opportunity. If it sounds desperate, that's because it is, but you can't help but feel that the song is justified in its honesty all the same.

This isn't just a record of love songs, though. 'No Future Shock' revisits the band's fondness for celebrating the bleakness of our apparent future, encouraging us all to dance to the sound of the end of the world. 'Repetition' similarly celebrates misfortune, seemingly mocking the singer's own paranoia and inability to break the cycle. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

If you really want evidence of TV On The Radio's new found optimism though then go no further than 'Caffeinated Consciousness'. The excellent Fluxblog recently posted this song and likened it to the sound of someone trying to turn Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer' into punk rock and I wholeheartedly agree - it sounds like raw energy turning the listener's hands into megaton weights and feet into jet engines... to resist is futile, as the singer says: "I'm optimistic, on overload". It's a fitting close to a great album.

Nine Times of Light is the best of both worlds - an album that continues to reveal more with repeated listens yet still has the hooks to have you addicted from the first listen. This is a brilliant record, eclipsing the band's best work.

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Nine Types of Light is out now, available from on CD, Deluxe CD, LP and MP3 [affiliate links].

Album Review: Dear Science - TV On The Radio

TVOTR's last album, Return To Cookie Mountain, quickly became an all time favourite for BlackPlastic. The combination of occasional falsetto vocals, Prince style production and Pixies aggression combined to create something beautiful and at the same time cutting edge. It has been noted elsewhere that the change from the original demo of the album to the finished product saw the order of the tracks rearranged and as a result the final prpduct was no longer opened by the thrashing 'Wolf Like Me'. Instead that duty was given to the brooding 'I Was A Lover'. It was a wise decision that in one step re-focused the album into something more considered, honest and passionate. Despite the fact that 'Wolf Like Me' is without doubt an album highlight it is debatable whether the album would stand-up as the classic it is now regarded as had that change not happened.

So onto Dear Science, TVOTR are back and they are clearly more ambitious as ever. From the opening fuzz and "ba, ba, ba ba ba" vocal through to the overtly sexual album closer, 'Lovers Day', Dear Science is a grown-up and complex record.

There are moments of tenderness, even if they are somewhat doomed, in the form of the synth backed 'Crying' and the ballad (yes, ballad), that everyone is already talking about, 'Family Tree'. Yet there are also times of aggression, whether it is directed internally or externally or, quite possibly in the case of 'DLZ', both.

Dear Science also features a constant struggle between positivity and angst. Lead single 'Golden Age' tries to paint a picture of a utopia just around the corner yet it is difficult to tell whether it is optimism or delusion that is driving singer Tunde Adebimpe's vocals. Similarly 'Dancing Choose' is certainly upbeat and could be considered positive, if only purely in a self-serving way that recalls the principles of survival of the fittest.

So Dear Science is the perfect soundtrack to our post-millenial times. Times that see extreme weather and financial patterns that appear to simultaneously signify an end but also a new start at the same time. This is an album that pulls in multiple directions, then, yet it still makes sense as a whole.

In terms of sound this is clearly a band at the top of their game and to say David Sitek's production continues to impress would be a gross understatement. In all honesty BlackPlastic misses some of the additional electronic touches and hip-hop influences of Return To Cookie Mountain yet it is hard to argue that this is anything but great and for those first discovering the band Dear Science easily stands out as a career highlight. It says much of Return To Cookie Mountain that it continues to remain one of BlackPlastic's most-played albums despite the fact that the follow up is now here. Many are already proclaiming TV On The Radio as the new Radiohead, if only in terms of scale and ambition rather than sound. Upon hearing the sheer number of ideas packed into the space of an hour for Dear Science it is impossible to disagree.

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