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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

TV on the Radio: Nine Types of Light (Release Date: 4-12-2011)

        Being a great artist has its advantages. Don't roll your eyes; it's not just fame and fortune that we're talking about here. Rather than having to endlessly hone one's craft in the hopes of one day being noticed, great artists are allowed, encouraged even, to test the boundaries of their talents, pushing out past what we have come to expect from them. The esteem of greatness has also allowed an artist or two to get away with choices that would have doomed lesser creators in the eyes of a mass audience. Let's illustrate: If you heard the line "Now our lives are changing fast/Hope that something pure can last," on the newest Good Charlotte album, it might just trigger a gag reflex, but instead, the rhyme contributes (in poignant and glorious fashion) to Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, the Grammy-Winning Album of the Year. Some artists just have, "it," an invaluable commodity that can turn the cheesy into the earnest, and the cloying into the pure by virtue of simply being a superior model. In case I haven't spelled it out enough already, TV on the Radio have, "it," and they have it in spades.

        The band's newest album, Nine Types of Light, puts this form of good will up to the test repeatedly, coming out unscathed just about every time. The opening tune, Second Song, is a perfect example, beginning with Tunde Adebimpe's seemingly off-center voice, and concluding with enough exuberant trumpet blowing to make the new Lady Gaga single seem stoic by comparison. It's a tune that, like much of the band's catalogue, has every reason to fail, but instead passes with flying colors, its disco-skewing celebration just about impossible to refuse. As if sensing what their listeners expect and throwing a curve ball just for the fun of it, Keep Your Heart actually decides to take it down a notch, at times flirting with country-music territory. It's not one of the disc's better numbers, but its placement upfront foreshadows the many detours and surprises found over the next forty minutes of music.

        On the whole, NToL's first half is decidedly slower and more romantic than its second, the fury and fun of No Future Shock serving as the only real exception to this rule. You rides on the wings of an impossibly catchy guitar riff, but also manages to move away from it without hardly missing a beat, Adebimpe's oft-used falsetto soaring through the lush instrumentation of the song's chorus. Killer Crane is a love ballad in every sense of the word, slowly coming to life with the help of simple piano chords, and delicate guitar strumming. It doesn't quite earn its six-plus-minute runtime, but hearing the banjo-fueled sections that first pop out a bit before the midway point is like seeing the sun come out after a day of rain. It's a great example of NToL's determination to add instruments unfamiliar to the TV on the Radio discography, and one of the record's most beautiful moments.

        The aforementioned lighter and more lovey-dovey half of the album concludes with Will Do, Nine Types of Light's first single and most emblematic track, first constructing a tense but beautiful ambience out of xylophone notes and a simple, pounding drum pattern. Always aiming to surprise, TotR almost immediately turns the darkened sky of the song's first few seconds into yet another completely earnest love song, but this one is special. The opening line goes, "It might be impractical to seek out a new romance/We won't know that actual if we never take the chance," a rhyme so simple and over-earnest that I honestly believe I could have written it when I was fourteen. But Adebimpe's lyrics have never been about getting nit-picky. His words work because he truly means them, and Will Do might just be the greatest testament of this to date. Axe-Man Kyp Malone has a little to do with it too, his subtle, stellar guitar part really pulling the song together, especially at its chorus. Like all good love tunes, Will Do goes out with a bang, violins humming amorously behind Adebimpe's endless assertion to his love that, "Anytime will do/No choice of words will break me from this rule." As good as NToL is, Will Do towers above the rest of the album, and will likely stand as one of 2011's most generous offerings to the ears.

        Once again seeking to capitalize of tonal juxtaposition, Will Do is followed by New Cannonball Run, a groovy little ditty with playful, skittering percussion. It's an ironic testament to the album's accomplished nature that Cannonball is a pretty forgettable track, sandwiched between the spit-fire pulse of Repetition and that other song that I kind of like. As if completely forgetting who they were a mere two songs ago, the conclusion of Repetition almost flies off the handle, the instrumental chaos ramping up to the point of explosion before scaling it down and sticking the landing. Follow-up Forgotten is no less tense, though it operates at a fraction of the speed. If you can find a more epic sounding, whistling-centric bridge in a song than this one... well, you won't, so I'll just leave that offer blank.

        Album closer Caffeinated Consciousness also pounds away with all of its might, but for once actually ends up on the wrong side of the, "almost tacky," line. No matter: By then, this one already has its victory all wrapped up. What perhaps stands as NToL's most out-standing accomplishment is that it confirms the band's new(ish) sound and nearly ensures more sensational offerings in years to come. TV on the Radio stands as one of the few bands able to dumb down their experimentalism without losing any steam, the icy, distant (albeit completely brilliant) band behind Return to Cookie Mountain no where to be found here. That was a band that you had to get used to. Nine Types of Light, like their previous album Dear Science, is for everyone, the chameleonic qualities of Adebimpe's voice and sonic elasticity of his band inviting everyone to the party. You're going to want to RSVP to this one.

Grade: A-

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