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TV On The Radio
Nine Types Of Light John Calvert , April 14th, 2011 12:52

If the magisterial TV On The Radio had, by September 2006, acquired a reputation as doomsayers, it was only their response to America during President Bush's second term. Two years on and within a torturous hair's length of salvation, Tunde Adebimpe hollered on 'DLZ', "This is beginning to feel like the long-winded blues of the never". Now, with Bush gone and a supposed new era in American politics, at home and abroad, TV On The Radio sit back and take stock.

Nine Types Of Light is an album about finding yourself again in the quiet. "In isolation / a transformation" sings Adebimpe on 'Killer Crane'. In a recent interview with The Guardian, he spoke about the effort of adjusting his mindset to the new era, after a decade of dread and defence. "Panic can become a very fruitless security blanket," he confided. "The truth is, you're lucky to feel anything". On 'Second Song', then, it's the enveloping power of music that stymies Adebimpe's night-terrors as, with his "restless mind" pacified, he informs us that while we go ahead and take stock of the "heartless times" he'll be getting down to the business of making whoopie.

On album centrepiece 'Killer Crane', meanwhile, he departs their new lodgings in Sitek's LA digs and travels out to the Pacific, with the trembling mid-range building a sense of anticipation. It's on the edge of America that he releases his trauma - memories and dark thoughts to the wind - in the form of the titular representation/psychic projection/power animal/whatnot, as the killer crane soars "After the reign / After the rainbow". Over flower-child woodwind and cello-like synths, he remembers the times before the strife, a vision of long-ago happiness he once dreamed about on the frontline: "Sunshine / I saw you through the hanging vine / A memory of what was mine / Fading away". The song ends in mellow harmony, with a couple of strums of acoustic guitar, and Adebimpe leaves feeling "suddenly unafraid". Truly, it's a timeless expression of redemption.

To paraphrase Ron Kovic, it's as if, for TV On The Radio, America feels like home again. Or, as Adebimpe says on 'Second Song', "Now my body says it's over / Shaking hands move to tear my face away". And in fact, it's their most American-sounding record thus far, as if the folksy-roots-stuff is theirs to connect with again. Bathed in a dusky vapour, the euphonious opening three tracks exhale nine years of tension. First up is 'Second Song', a study in relaxed simplicity: there's a church organ, a piano and a crescendo that positively gleams, and whereas before the the horns and brass would convulse and alarm, now they pump your chest full of melodic goodwill, while the synths at the beginning of 'Keep Your Heart' - gossamer, pinkish chem-trails - would have been molten and malign a couple of years back. Then there's the woozy little fireflies spiralling and flitting around the verses of 'You', or the tentative oriental xylophone at the start of 'Will Do'.

"The plan was to make music in real life, for real life," Sitek recently told Rolling Stone - and throughout Nine Types Of Light the arrangements are sketched, and the production unobtrusive and forgiving; shorn of the hi-tech grandstanding of yore and culled of both that beastly quality and the live-wire paranoia that once plagued the high end. The vocals are one-take and unfinished, and as opposed to the loops and polyrhythms of before, the album's most transcendent moments are steadied by Jaleel Bunton's softly luxuriant hip-hop beats. It's Sitek's skill as a handsome texturologist which benefits Nine Types... most. The barely perceptible (but indispensable) electronic caramel he coated The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' 'Turn Into' and 'Gold Lion' with is liberally applied here too, notably on 'Will Do' and 'You'.

It's not all tenderness and summer evenings, though. As Adebimpe says on the twitchy 'No Future Shock', he still sleeps with his gun. The ogreish funk carnage kicked up on 'Repetition' echoes the thoughts of men constantly looking over their shoulders, eyes peeled for the next sign of danger - "the cracks will become obvious before too long," Adebimpe frets on 'Repetition'. Meanwhile, a throwback to Return To Cookie Mountain is the swaying and brilliant 'Forgotten', a typical New Yorkers' take on the Sunshine State: full of mordant foreboding and talk of plastic paradise, it's a strange land they'd rather just forget as Malone caterwauls "Hold tight / Our lover's day is written into the sky / We'll fade into the night". The final track, 'Caffeinated Conscious', has a bizarre tinge of Faith No More about it, while 'New Cannonball Blues' is stern and domineering. Unfortunately, save some whopping great Stevie Wonder-like brass, like 'No Future Shock' it's a very stilted, uninspired successor to the vibrant pop-funk which formed Dear Science.

Since their inception, the Brookynites have obsessed over a morbid, cataclysmic idea of romance, forever married to the defiant image of those lovers kissing beneath the shadow of the Berlin Wall: “And the guns, shot above our heads/ And we kissed/ As though nothing could fall" (they even went as far as covering "Heroes" for the War Child album). Their macabre notion of romantic endeavour is best summarized on Dear Science's 'Stork And Owl' as such: "Death is a door that love walks through / in and out / in and out / back and forth / back and forth". The dilemma, however, is how do they sustain the passion of love in their love songs, when their protagonists are no longer shagging through their last night on earth? The quintet appear to subscribe to Oscar Wilde's opinion that the only true romance is a doomed one. "They spoil every romance by trying to make it last forever," quipped the writer. "The very essence of romance is uncertainty". But now that life seems less perilous, is the power of their heart-tuggers somehow depleted? Another of Wilde's truisms comes to mind - his conviction that "Where there is no extravagance, there is no love".

Nine Types Of Light offers a far less opulent, more modest ecology when compared to their earlier work, but it speaks of a far more mature and realistic notion of love: based on caring, understanding, patience, soulful connection. Obviously it's a less arresting interpretation, but it grows on you until its lambent warmth is in your bones. The bombs no longer fall but "we'll fall together in time, just the same..." harks Adebimpe. More poignantly, in both the context of the entire record and TVoTR's new chapter, as he sums it up on 'Will Do': "You don't want to waste your life in the middle of a lovesick lullaby."

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