Contentment vs. Form

04/13/2011 4:00 AM |


Tv on the Radio

Nine Types of Light


(Interscope)


In a move perhaps even more admirable for its sheer boldness than for anything having to do with the quality of the music produced, TV on the Radio have gone and made a record that essentially takes everything that’s made them one of indie rock’s biggest success stories over the past decade, looks it squarely in the eye, and then promptly throws it right the fuck out the window. It’s the kind of thing almost all great bands have to do once or twice throughout their career in order not to burn out. Most bands know it will mean leaving some fans behind; the bands that matter will do it anyway.


With Nine Types of Light, TV on the Radio have all but abandoned the hard-edged funk that first endeared them to us, as well as the soaring arena-readiness that followed, not to mention their most borough-defining sentiment: that it was ok to dance away your problems, as long as you realized such a thing was not only beneath you but maybe even impossible. It was a lot to leave behind, obviously, and they find themselves with a pretty substantial hole to fill.


It’s a curious bit of timing, then, that for the first time in their career, TV on the Radio can’t rightfully be accused of piling on. These tracks are packed far less densely than ever before, with new elements added sparingly and, if you’re listening closely, announced clearly upon their arrival. At over six minutes in length, slow-burner “Killer Crane” manages never to overstay its welcome, building quietly throughout. Brooding strings give way to piano, then to acoustic guitar, bass, banjo and backing vocals. It’s arranged beautifully, without even a hint of clutter, and it boasts one of frontman Tunde Adebimpe’s strongest vocal performances ever. So too does album opener “Second Song,” which, for the first half anyway, sees the band adopting a world-weariness on par with fellow Brooklyn-based indie rock heavyweights the National. “Confidence and ignorance approve me, define my day today,” sings Adebimpe, “I’ve tried to so hard to shut down, lock it up, gently walk away.” It’s a pretty standard type of navel-gazing, really, until it decides not to be: the deep, deadpan vocals and generally mopey tone are replaced by squealing horns and a cocky falsetto. It’s the closest they come to party music here, and they don’t sustain it for very long. There’s the perfectly addictive “Repetition,” with its dizzying vocal melody and classically driving beat, and there’s the fist-pumping closer “Caffeinated Consciousness,” but they don’t quite provide the album’s dominant tone.


For a surprisingly large chunk of Nine Types of Light, TV on the Radio lingers in mid-tempo territory,which doesn’t always suit them perfectly. “Keep Your Heart” is nice enough at first listen, though it’s too long by about a minute, and it awkwardly straddles the line between plainspoken and heavy-handed. “You” does exactly the same thing, actually, but with a much stronger melody and far better results overall. On “Will Do,” they flirt pleasantly with soul, and they wind up with something resembling a cheeseball slow-jam. These are songs about being content, basically, and so it’s understandable that the music itself would sound so content too. It doesn’t always make for the most thrilling listen, of course, but for a band that has so perfectly reflected the concerns of a generation of young people for such a long time, there’s something gratifying in seeing them reach a point where they aren’t kicking and screaming all the time. They’ve lost their edge for now, and it’s not the end of the world.