Album Review: ‘Nine Types of Light’ by TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio is currently the coolest band in the USA, they just don’t know it.  And that is precisely what makes them so cool.  Their new album Nine Types of Light doesn’t come across like it was made by rock-stars, or even “wanna be” rock-stars.  Nine Types of Light is a perfect example of modern music that goes beyond self awareness, while staying conscience of the society that surrounds us, and the interplay of personal relationships.  Taking the form of love songs, the Brooklyn art-rockers have constructed a luminous album as a follow up to the critically acclaimed Dear Science.  Both the albums are brilliant and, in some ways, defy categorization.  I have a hunch that this band will become an important link for future bands trying to reconcile mash-up culture with a coherent musical narrative, using elements of new and old musical genres.  Modern folkies may be pushing past modernity by re-connecting with the rooted-ness of the folk tradition, but this band is pushing through the same wall, by combining deconstructed elements of pop music from the last 50 years into a mash-up that reconstructs and directs nihilism into prophecy, and love into light.  Dear Science plays toward the prophetic by delivering lines like,

“…I’m fat and in love
and no bombs are falling on me for sure
But I’m scared to death
That I’m living a life not worth dying for.”

These words for “life during wartime” rang powerfully after the release of Dear Science.  The music of Dear Science is a mish-mash of funk, rock, hip hop, and 90’s alt. It is danceable but tense.  Movable but melancholy.  The band has continued it’s musical hodgepodge within the colors of Nine Types of Light, but shifted the tone towards the positive and transcendent.  This shift of attitude is demonstrated on the first track (and my favorite), ironically entitled Second Song,

“And then the light shines, It’s gleaming like a bottle, And lord knows I’ll tackle it full throttle
May I illuminate the nameless faceless saints out of these odd and open graves
Every lover on a mission shift your known position into the light
Every diamond elemental you are instrumental to the light
Every sonic evolution make your own contribution to the light
Every lover on a mission shift your known position to the light .”

Once everything is deconstructed, some say that all that is left of reality is nothing.  Others say love.  This is an album that is an example of the later.  And a very convincing one, considering the the dark conclusions of Dear Science.  I think the love factor is why these guys consistently demonstrate an understanding of the flip sides of beauty, and can pull off a coherent expression employing a huge amount of musical styles.

As a Christian, I love music that either authentically communicates the disparity of the human condition, or begs the question:  Is there perhaps more than what we normally see and experience as the human condition?  TV on the Radio does both well without falling into introspective self loathing.  It is fitting at this point to mention the fact that Gerard Smith, the bass player for TV on the Radio, died a few days ago after a long struggle with lung cancer.  This news comes a few weeks after the release of Nine Types of Light and a few days after Gerard played his last show in Boston.  A show that my friend, Bobby, was fortunate enough to attend.  May Christ the light lead us all to the light.

Nine Types of Light (The Movie)
Nine Types of Light is as much an album as it is a movie by TV on the Radio. The movie is meant to be a visual re-imagining of the record, and includes a music video for every song on the album. The band personally asked their friends and the filmmakers they admired to help direct the music videos. Tunde Adebimpe, the director for the full Nine Types of Light movie, storybooked the music videos together with interviews from local New Yorkers on various topics, including dreams, love, fame and the future.