Album review: TV on the Radio, “Nine Types of Light” (Interscope)

April 5, 2011

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From their start, four albums and a decade back, the master fusionists that are TV on the Radio never have stopped evolving. Among the Brooklyn-based art-rockers’ most successful transmogrifications: the angry, genre-defying political protestors of “Return to Cookie Mountain” (2006), and the frenetic good-time dance musicians of “Dear Science” (2008).

“I don’t know anyone who just listens to one kind of music,” vocalist Tunde Adebimpe told me after the latter release. “The whole idea of sticking to one genre… I feel like there are people who do that really, really well, and that’s the way they hear things and how they express themselves. But it’s not the only way to do things.”

You’d think that by this point, we’d be ready for anything the group might give us, especially after a long hiatus that found its members working on numerous and diverse outside projects. (Most notable among them multi-instrumentalist David Andrew Sitek’s R&B/pop project Maximum Balloon and Adebimpe’s role in “Rachel Getting Married”) Nevertheless, an album of love songs/funky bedroom grooves comes as a major surprise.

With a few exceptions—especially the herky-jerk closer, “Caffeinated Consciousness,” though even that alternates its edgy verses with soothing choruses, the prevailing mood this time around is one of heartfelt if sometimes forlorn romance, heavy on the optimistic introspection and intimate confession… or, in other words, a vibe very similar to that of Jonathan Demme’s brilliant 2008 film, which really must have gotten under Adebimpe’s skin.

Though this absolutely is a band in which every member’s contribution is key—even when the rhythm section is laying back, with drummer Jaleel Bunton and bassist Gerard Smith making like the beat boys in Radiohead on its latest, “The King of Limbs”—it is Adebimpe who shines the brightest, with one of the most distinctive and expressive voices anywhere on the current music scene, and guitarist Kyp Malone is nearly as good. Witness soulful standouts such as “Second Song,” “You,” “Keep Your Heart,” and “Killer Crane.”

If a better, more vulnerable boudoir soundtrack has been made this year, I haven’t heard it.

On the four-star scale: 3.5 STARS

STILL IN HEAVY ROTATION

Lykke Li, “Wounded Rhymes” (Atlantic)

Screeching Weasel, “First World Manifesto” (Fat Wreck Chords)

Lupe Fiasco, “Lasers” (Atlantic)

Lucinda Williams, “Blessed” (Lost Highway)

Radiohead, “The King of Limbs” (self-released)

Drive-By Truckers, “Go-Go Boots” (ATO)

North Mississippi Allstars, “Keys to the Kingdom” (Songs of the South)

Smith Westerns, “Dye It Blonde” (Fat Possum)

The Decemberists, “The King Is Dead” (Capitol)

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