Upon first listen, it was clear to me that Nine Types of Light, the fourth studio album by Brooklyn quintet TV on the Radio (although that number was unfortunately subtracted by one when bassist Gerald Smith died of cancer in April of this year) was inferior to at least its two immediate predecessors, 2006's Return to Cookie Mountain and 2008's Dear Science. It fell a little too much on the mellow side, and it lacked something with the brute force and raw power of Return's "Playhouses" or the infectious hummability of Science's "Golden Age." And anyway, it is no shame to fall short of those albums. Both ranked among the best of their year and decade. However, since I still spend money on music - sometimes I feel like I am the only one - I decided I would give it more than one listen. I'm glad I did.
At 10 songs and a little more than 40 minutes, Nine Types of Light is a very cohesive, easy listen. The falsettos displayed by vocalist Tunde Adebimpe and vocalist/guitarist Kyp Malone continue be two of the more interesting "instruments" in contemporary rock music, while the sonic landscapes designed by guitarist/producer David Andrew Sitek contain a wealth of intriguingly odd sounds per usual. Meanwhile, the late Smith and drummer Jaleel Bunton provide a rhythm section that give the songs extra depth.
I am a fan of this band whether the pacing of their songs is fast or slow, but for whatever reason I really tend to go for the upbeat numbers. Therefore, for me, the highlights of the piece are "No Future Shock," a dancer with a thunder-drum opening, a squiggly guitar driving it along, and a dissonant keyboard squall kicking it up another level in the chorus, and "New Cannonball Blues," which has an even more nasty drum line, an even deeper and more guttural synth blast at its core, and something that has become a near-signature for the band - deft usage of the horn section, especially in its stirring, melodic conclusion.
While these are clearly my two favorite songs on the album, the slower ones began to grow on me more with each subsequent listen until the full-length began to seem as seamless and complete as the rest of their discography. "Keep Your Heart" benefits from a hand-clap rhythm, a sensitive yet effective rhythm guitar, and an Adebimpe bass vocal that probably should have come off as really silly, but works for the song. The xylophonish opener of "Will Do" became a bass-heavy ballad with strong effects-based backing. Once the intense guitar and overriding synth line came in over the chorus, it was easy to forget that the lyrics are a tad bit cliche and lover-mannish. TVotR (notice the witty abbreviation!) also make a very interesting choice for the album closer. "Caffienated Consciousness" is a stunner that seems like it would have been a perfect album opener, with crushing guitars, a tight drum/bass combo, and wailing lyrics by Adebimpe. However, by closing with it, the band seems to be sending a message that there is more where this album came from, and that maybe we will see another full-length in shorter time then it took to get this one out (the band went on a shocking hiatus in 2008, and in light of Smith's death that seems to make more sense).
The truth is this is probably the third-best album by a band who has made four. If your band's name was Nickleback, it might be time to commence playing Frisbee with the CD. But when you are TV on the Radio, a band with a seemingly endless well of brilliant ideas just waiting to be put on wax, that ain't bad.