by Jason Hicks
When a band releases the follow up to a career defining work it can create somewhat of a conundrum in regards to its analysis. Should the new work be judged on its own merits, in a vacuum, or should it be compared to the creative heights that preceded it? So it goes with Nine Types of Light, the latest album from Brooklyn based indie artrockers TV on the Radio. The last time around on 2008's Dear Science, the band knocked it out of the park, managing to both expand and streamline their sound which resulted in an album so superlative that I named it as a top album of the decade here.
Nine Types of Light shares the same uncluttered and direct approach as Dear Science, but doesn't quite pack the same punch in the intensity and songwriting departments. Which isn't to say that the latest offering is devoid of pleasures, as it is most certainly an enjoyable listen, but it's hard not to label it as a stop gap of sorts. It coasts along on the ground uncovered on Dear Science, and offers little in the way of forwarding the TVOTR sound to new places.
To be sure there are several nice touches like the icy Enoesque synths and slow burning slide guitars on "You", and David Sitek's production choices are as impeccable and intriguing as ever. "Killer Crane" provides the album's highlight in the form of a stately piano ballad. Not only is it the standout, but it does at least hint at a new direction, a warmer and almost pastoral TV on the Radio, which is without a doubt something worth exploring. But elsewhere many of the tracks blend into midtempo sameness, with the band only really working up a full head of steam a couple of times on tracks like "No Future Shock" and the slashing album closer "Caffeinated Consciousness".
If something is indeed missing from the proceedings, it must be laid at the feet of co-frontman Kyp Malone. Since joining the group following their debut EP, Malone's songs have been an aggressive and slightly funkier rejoinder to Tunde Adebimpe's more introspective offerings. Here he takes the reins as lead vocalist on a scant three out of the album's ten tracks. In the past he had contributed nearly half of the songs on each album with many of them among the band's all time best, such as "Dreams" and "Golden Age". If Nine Types of Light featured a couple more Malone powered house shakers like "No Future Shock" it wouldn't be so easy to dismiss as a minor entry into the TV on the Radio catalog.
Which brings us back to the initial dilemma; perhaps it shouldn't matter that it doesn't best Dear Science, because at the end of the day TV on the Radio are still making quality music that stands above the majority of their peers. But on the other hand the nagging "what ifs" are hard to shake, could TV on the Radio have taken their game to yet another level and provided us with a Kid A type shocker? Of course it's easy to cast such stones from the comfy confines of an intenet armchair. So I'll take Nine Types of LIght for what it is, a respectably satisfying album from one of today's best bands and hope for a game changer next time around.