For their nearly decade-long existence, art-rockers TV on the Radio have received their fair share of accolades for a host of reasons—their genre-shifting mercurialness, their consistency, their injection of the falsetto into indie rock—but the ability to craft tender love songs has never been one of them.
The quintet’s first two full-length studio albums, 2004’s Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babe and 2006’s Return to Cookie Mountain, brooded with tension and dread, reflecting a gnashing-of-teeth mindset that had no time or patience for affection. “There’s nothing inside me but an angry heartbeat,” vocalists Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone bellowed in unison on the opening Desperate Youth track “The Wrong Way”. But on their 2008 outing, the brilliant Dear Science, the band began to cleanup and loosen some of their swampy rhythms and tightly-wound grooves. And even though some of the cynicism remained, there were also celebratory songs like the utopia-longing dance tune “Golden Age” and the desire-as-refuge closer “Lover’s Day”. On TV on the Radio’s new album Nine Types of Light, the lust that capped off Dear Science has apparently led to love, resulting in the band finally feeling conformable enough in their own skin to approach sensual bedroom tunes.
This more settled, soulful shift is immediately apparent on the album’s opener “Second Song”. The band’s previous kickoff tracks always went for sense-of-purpose stomp: the instant grind of “The Wrong Way”, the woozy, in-your-face synths of “I Was a Lover” and the post-punk “wall of sound” at the beginning of “Halfway Home”. “Second Song”, by contrast, is an unhurried builder. “Confidence and ignorance approve me,” Adebimpe deadpans over what first appears to be another darkly shaded tune. But the song slowly finds its life-affirming footing, peaking with adoring coos, syncopated rhythms and blaring horns. From there, things get even gushier on the two subsequent tracks, with Malone pillow-talking over Gerard Smith’s jovial bass lines on “Keep Your Heart”, and the superb slow jam “You” finds Adebimpe crooning, “you’re the only one I have ever loved”.
Meanwhile, the album’s lead single, the infectious soul track “Will Do”, wraps up Adebimpe’s last-resort desperate plea in sexy, shifting atmospherics: “I’d love to collapse with you / And ease you against this song / I think we’re compatible / I see that you think I’m wrong.” On “Killer Crane”, producer/guitarist Dave Sitek crafts banjo-tinged psychedelic folk that’s airy enough for the end credits of a Disney film—clearly not your typical TV on the Radio tune—but somehow it works and it’s probably their prettiest song yet.
Still, even though this is by-and-large a heartfelt project, it isn’t entirely absent of the band’s denser funk or customary diatribes. “Forgotten” is the Brooklyn band’s bittersweet ode to Los Angeles (which is where the album was record): “Beverly Hills nuclear winter / What should we wear and who’s for dinner?” Adebimpe sarcastically sings. Elsewhere, “New Cannonball Blues” and “No Future Shock” conjure Prince’s wallop during his The Black Album/Lovesexy period, whereas “Repetition” and closer “Caffeinated Consciousness” invoke Living Colour’s brand of funk metal, and it’s surprisingly all good.
But even with these toe-dips in fuzzier, darker grooves, there’s still a sanguine blanket that covers Nine Types of Light—and, astonishingly, it doesn’t come off as a wallow in overdone pathos. Rather, it’s a sign of a maturing band that has less to prove but still the same vigorous capacity for making magnificent music.