There’s a war on, kids. And anyone who thinks TV on the Radio hung up their “Dancing Choose,” scattered Dear Science’s laurels over a heart-shaped bed, called the missus, and retired to the bedroom just isn’t listening closely enough. Three years, several side projects, and a new studio in an L.A. strip mall stand between Nine Types of Light and their last transmission from the cosmic ether, and on “No Future Shock,” Kyp Malone makes sure we haven’t gone all fainthearted: “See that you get down/ In the towns in the country in the city in the middle of the village/ Don’t get left behind!/ Oh wipe it out your thoughts!/ It’s shot! You bleeding things so full of love/ Get ready!”
In place of the thick washes of distortion that gave Cookie Mountain its expansiveness, the band built the lithe, translucent arrangements of Dear Science, bringing them near-universal acclaim. Nine Types of Light has the same basic sonic patina, but TV on the Radio still have cards left to play, beginning “Second Song” with a reedy harmonium and ending it with a brass outro. The way humans cope with expanding technocracy has been a frequent subject for the band, and in the first verse, manufactured desires threaten to boil up and consume Tunde Adebimpe: “Appetites and impulses confuse me/ Decide my day, today/ Now my body says it’s over/ Shaking hands move to tear my face away.”
But the melodramatic — yet still very effective — video for “Will Do” makes obvious their primary concern on this album: love. In the video, the band tests out a virtual reality machine, before Adebimpe casts it off and finds the real-life virtual woman in a forest somewhere. This section coincides with some of my favorite lyrics on the album: “Through your fuse it blows/ Carino Caldera!/ Set it off!/ As your body flows the second hand flashes/ Passes over your/ Skin like time.” Indeed, it all sounds simpler, more emotionally direct this time around, but to miss out on moments like that, or Adebimpe’s crazy, unselfconscious falsetto through the second half of “Keep Your Heart,” is to miss out on what makes Nine Types of Light live and breathe.
Elsewhere, “New Cannonball Run” plays out in the same jittery vein as “Red Dress,” with Dave Sitek’s scribbling atmospherics and Malone’s jagged chords shooting through the mix; and it’s hard not to love the way Adebimpe yawns out the easy grandeur of a lyric like “After the rain/ A killer crane/ After a rainbow/ Across the sky/ Her graces glide/ Across the sea/ Across creation” on “Killer Crane.” Sure, they spent less time on Nine Types of Light than any album to date, and when you look over the album’s tracklist, it seems like kind of a mess — the title reads like a reference to some arcane optical law; “Second Song” is actually the first track — but these things are, appropriately, refractions. To these five Brooklyn acolytes, the revolution is a groovy dance party that was going on long before we pressed play. The 10 songs defy the attempted taxa of the album title.
But that’s not all they defy. Today, Biocyte, a biotech company, owns a patent on the human umbilical cord; Monsanto’s lawsuits against farmers have introduced a new legal order that increasingly sees the processes of life itself as property to be licensed, owned and transacted; private prisons, the dark specter of an out-of-control drug war, have inaugurated a modern version of chattel slavery in which an entrepreneurial investor can buy stock in beds, prisons, and inmates. In this context, TV on the Radio’s emphasis on love and companionship feels vital. I’m reminded of an old interview we did with Sitek, where he talked about the first song Bob Marley wrote in England in self-imposed political exile after an assassination attempt: “The artist’s role is more of a historical record than a confrontational; at least the kind of music that I am drawn to is more of something that accurately reflects the times.” As I sat in my room late last week spinning the album, trolling Google News, and wondering if my parents would be reporting to work on Monday while lawmakers played political chicken with 800,000 people’s jobs, Nine Types of Light reflected, for me, a different kind of reality: that love — the real, human kind — can be a rebellion in its own right