“If the world falls apart / I’m gonna keep your heart,” TV On The Radio guitarist Kyp Malone sings on “Keep Your Heart,” the second track on the new Nine Types Of Light. It’s a fitting epigraph for the entire record. Though awash in paranoid apocalyptic imagery—fish washing ashore, nuclear winter—Nine Types Of Light, like a musical Hiroshima Mon Amour, is all about making love. The sly, sexy falsetto chorus of the opener, “Second Song,” urges “every lover on a mission” to move “into the light,” and they may as well stay there. But more abstractly, it’s a reminder of how close TV On The Radio’s own world came to ending during its indefinite hiatus, and how reassuring it is that the group returned with its internal fires burning.
And that time off barely registers. Light picks up right where 2008’s Dear Science left off, furthering the band’s evolution from a staticky sample-punk outfit to something more suave and refined. The tender “You” is built on an agile, two-note bassline and hesitant drum loop that echoes the slow seduction of “Will Do”; both songs are the most clear-eyed come-ons the band has ever produced. The pastoral ballad “Killer Crane” barely has any beat at all; it’s driven by washed-out piano and even the occasional banjo. The rolling sonar pulse of the penultimate track, “Forgotten,” is accompanied by stately violin loops before finally exploding into what sounds like popping fireworks, as though the entire album has been building to a first kiss.
Still, Light’s romance is never rote or dull. Even the sappier moments are refracted through Tunde Adebimpe’s offbeat croon and Dave Sitek’s prog-gospel stew production of tense guitar and sudden horn blasts. And Light puts the moves on listeners in more ways than one, with jarring flashes of fury provided by the spastic jerk of “No Future Shock” and “Caffeinated Consciousness,” and the urgent funk of “New Cannonball Blues” and especially “Repetition” (so slithering, it could be an outtake from Prince’s Sign O’ The Times). Finding the beauty and the beat in unpredictable chaos—keeping the heart when the world falls apart—has always been TV On The Radio’s specialty, and here, it sounds completely effortless.