"Every lover on a mission shifted your known position due to the light" is the chorus reminder on "Second Song," the song that kick starts the latest album from TV On The Radio. The "art rock" group busted out on the Brooklyn scene back in 2002 with the release of Ok Calculator, making it clear that they had a message behind their music. It was raw and unhinged, the music spastic behind the controlled lyrics voiced by duel vocalists Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe. Whither they were talking politics, science, or socio-economic issues there was a cynical, ironic twist to almost every song. It's what drew such critical and public acclaim. They were a dancey Rage Against The Machine. In that way, Nine Types of Light is a very different album. Musically they are still creating jittery overly-caffeinated layers of bass, loops, horns and vocals. Lyrically, however, it sounds like they are just having fun.
And that's not to say it's lacking meaning in any way. The meaning is there, it just sounds like some battles have been fought and now they are surveying the damage that was and feeling pretty happy about making it out alive. The beautiful and gentle "Killer Crane" is the break mid-album giving us Tunde's love song that could be a new lullaby. He coos, "sunshine I saw you through the hanging vine...suddenly unafraid." The build of ohhs and ahhs in the background giving the entire song an angelic and heaven sent feeling. Kyp's love song comes earlier in the album with "Keep Your Heart", Kyp's voice reminds me of The National's Matt Berninger with it's lazy swagger on this track. This is a straight up love song. It's simple and plaintive, there isn't a metaphor for the lyrics to hide behind and it holds up beautifully without one. My favorite of the love songs, yes there are a few to choose from, is "You." Another plaintive and unafraid message from Tunde repeating, "you're the only one I've ever loved," Dave Sitek's production keeps the song moving and with minimal lyrics there's plenty going on musically to keep things from being monotonous.
Do you like your TV On The Radio for your Friday night jam? Don't worry there's still plenty to sweat to. There's the Prince-esque "New Cannonball Blues" with Kyp and Tunde hitting the highest highs and lowest lows. Sexy and smooth bass and drums kicking it with a bleeting synth is the perfect way to get a party going. And there is still some politics going on, likening LA to an apocalyptic world in "Forgotten," asking "Nuclear winter. What should we wear and who's for dinner?" There's enough witting one liners to put a smile on the snarkiest faces.
If you're a TV On The Radio fan, you'll enjoy this and if you've been kept away by just the idea of an "art rock" band, this is the album to try. If there can be a theme that's running through this album it is love. Which sounds saccharine, but it comes off clean and refreshing. You take away the shadows and shed light on the truth and take away the mask of metaphor and something really beautiful appears. Maybe the last song on the album, "All Falls Down," sums it up best, "But love comes and all falls down."