3600 Days Later: Nine Types of Light

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TV On The Radio’s “Nine Types of Light” turns 10 years old. (Courtesy of Facebook)

Chris Capuano, Contributing Writer

A hiatus is a tricky thing. Bands from OutKast to Fugazi to Neutral Milk Hotel have left fans in limbo for years, not necessarily expecting new music but never losing hope either. In all likelihood, we’ll never see most of these bands reunite, and a reunion tour might be all we get from the ones that do. 

In the cases where artists do return, the post-hiatus project will generally receive fanfare regardless of quality, as fans seek to relive the joy of listening to new music by a band that had previously put down the microphone(s). This makes the good hiatus comeback all the more special and the great one a truly rare thing.

A great return to recording is exactly what TV On The Radio released in 2011 with “Nine Types of Light.” In the years after 2008’s “Dear Science” and the indefinite hiatus TVOTR announced following its release, the band’s members took time to explore solo work, with crooner Kyp Malone releasing music under the name Rain Mountain and frontman Tunde Adebimpe starring in 2008 film “Rachel Getting Married” alongside the likes of Anne Hathaway.

When the band announced “Nine Types of Light” two and a half years later, fans were unsure of what to expect, especially from a band that had so consistently defied expectations before taking a break. What they got was the most mesmerizing work in TVOTR’s already incredible discography.

“Nine Types of Light” is the band’s most subtle project to date, and from a band whose work often revels in complexity and maximalism, there is beauty previously unseen in this subtlety. Adebimpe introduces himself in album opener “Second Song” (yes, the first song is called “Second Song”) with a clarity to his voice that is notably distinct from the fuzz and distortion that generally marks TVOTR’s lead-off tracks before swinging in with his falsetto. “Every lover on a mission / Shift your known position into the light,” he sings on the hook. It’s the album’s thesis statement of sorts. TVOTR has never shied away from singing about love and carnage, but the relationship between them is different here. Where their previous works often exude the sense of love amidst carnage, “Nine Types of Light” contends for love despite it. 

That distinction carries the project to places the band has never been before. “Keep Your Heart” and “You” is a gorgeously affecting two-track run unreplicated elsewhere in TVOTR’s discography, though this is not to say they’re complete outliers. Like many of the band’s previous releases, both songs are drenched with the tears of a forlorn lover and coated with apocalyptic worries. “If the world all falls apart / How am I gonna keep your heart?” Adebimpe wonders softly on the former. When these tracks are followed with songs like the funk-laden “No Future Shock,” which treads territory more familiar for TVOTR, the project as a whole is elevated to new heights for the band, even if “Nine Types of Light” never reaches the art-rock perfection of their 2006 major label debut “Return to Cookie Mountain” or the funky weirdness of “Dear Science”.

Still, even with the maudlin balladry of songs like lead single “Will Do,” the album is not a completely melancholic one. “Repetition” offers some of the album’s most direct commentary (“But I can’t stop thinking that it’s all gone wrong / And the truth will be obvious before too long”) over a blistering instrumental, and “New Cannonball Blues” hits like, well, a cannonball, to paraphrase the chorus for lack of a better description. 

But nothing on “Nine Types of Light” hits quite the same way as album centerpiece “Killer Crane.” The song is perhaps best experienced as part of the film TVOTR released to accompany the album, which features a music video for each song on the project interspersed by interviews with New Yorkers. The “Killer Crane” video contains a montage of band footage and photos; it’s a stunning celebration of the band’s brotherhood that takes on a heartbreaking meaning in light of bassist Gerard Smith’s death shortly after the album’s release. In conjunction, the song and video make for a devastatingly poignant dedication to Smith, who was battling lung cancer as the album was being created and passed away nine days after it came out. Any celebration of “Nine Types of Light”’s anniversary must also be accompanied by the celebration of Gerard Smith. If his work with TVOTR tells us anything, it is that we ought to find and appreciate love even as chaos descends upon us.

This message, which is carved into the DNA of “Nine Types of Light,” is hauntingly present ten years later. In the past year, death has been reduced to an ever-climbing number that many have stopped keeping track of (and many others never were), and it’s hard not to be numbed by the constant injustice that the world so readily provides. But “Nine Types of Light,” even a decade after its release, refuses to bow down. Even when angry, despondent and tinged with (or maybe full of) nihilism, the album does not give up hope that love will prevail. In the face of impending doom on “No Future Shock,” Adebimpe asks the listener to “dance, don’t stop.” This jubilant defiance is the ethos of “Nine Types of Light” (and a vital part of TV On The Radio as a whole); 3600 days have done nothing to lessen its impact.