TV on the Radio
“Nine Types of Light”
The dirty little secret about experimental rockers TV on the Radio is that the group is not all that experimental and rarely rocks. On “Nine Types of Light,” the Brooklyn-bred quintet seems to finally come to terms with this. The claustrophobia that dominated previous albums has eased on this fourth effort. The band opens up sonically and emotionally. In the TV on the Radio universe, “Nine Types of Light” passes for lighthearted, even fun, and it suits them well.
If there were ever a criticism to be leveled at the band, it was its fondness for songs that could be overwrought and over-thought. On “Light,” thinking is out and feeling is in. Singer Tunde Adebimpe is perpetually glowing, and his voice finally takes the center stage it deserves. For all of the band’s artiness, the oldest of all rock staples — a magnetic frontman with a distinctive, emotive voice — has long been its greatest strength. He favors a sweet, sexy croon that trickles into falsetto on “Keep Your Heart” as a gently lilting rhythm, and purring synthesizers keep things from getting too hurried or cluttered. “You’re the only one I ever loved,” he coos on “You,” a seductive almost-slow-jam that is the band’s first foray into make-out music. Adebimpe can still howl with the best of them, and by saving it for a few big moments — particularly the sassy dance-rocker “No Future Shock” — he makes it sound all the mightier.
The sonic splendor that has been the band’s calling card remains intact, thanks largely to multi-instrumentalist/producer David Sitek, who has an uncanny knack for making every sound (especially Kyp Malone’s elegant guitar) sparkle. The airier arrangements on “Light” do Sitek more justice. It was neat to dig deep into old songs to pick out the highlights, but as the band has figured out, sometimes a little less work can be just as fulfilling.
“Who You Are”
Jessie “J” Cornish is the Katy Perry of England. In America, she’s best known for having co-written Miley Cyrus’s insanely cheerful hit “Party in the U.S.A.” She hopes that will change with the release of her debut disc, “Who You Are,” already a hit back home. No one could accuse Cornish and her team of superstar producers of overreaching: “Who You Are” isn’t an album so much as an art project, a stitched-together, Frankensteinian assortment of ideas and beats that are so familiar you’ll swear you’ve heard them already, only another woman was doing them.
“Abracadabra” welds a Perry chorus to an ’80s R&B girl-group verse; the Rihanna-recalling “Do It Like a Dude” is an ingratiating electro-hip-hop banger that thinks it’s more transgressive (“I can do it like a brother / Do it like a dude”) than it is; the B.o.B.-guesting “Price Tag” would evoke “Airplanes” without even trying, though it tries pretty hard; “Nobody’s Perfect” is one of several ballads here that suggest a more wan version of Adele. “Who You Are” tries everything — pop, electro, sing-rapping, nondenominational gospel.
Big-voiced and likable, Cornish seems mindful that pop audiences don’t like it when women get too sassy (call it the Nicki Minaj principle), which may be why for every snotty pop track there is a drippy love ballad (such as the somewhat literal “L.O.V.E.”). Jessie J’s best songs might sound like somebody else, but the bad ones are each terrible in their own way.
Alison Krauss & Union Station
There’s something Apollonian, something so clear, harmonious and restrained, about the genre-bridging music of Alison Krauss & Union Station that it’s a wonder it could have sprung from an idiom as unvarnished and earthy as bluegrass. Three of the songs on the group’s first album in seven years hark back to those roots. All three of them, including a high lonesome remake of Peter Rowan’s “Dust Bowl Children,” are sung by guitar and mandolin player Dan Tyminski. The rest of the record’s 11 tracks feature Krauss on lead vocals, but only the instrumentation, especially the quicksilver call-and-response between Jerry Douglas’s Dobro and Krauss’s fiddle, really hints at the group’s down-home roots.
None of that makes these remaining, subtly filigreed performances any less gorgeous. The title track is an introspective acoustic ballad akin to those on Rosanne Cash’s 1990 post-Nashville classic, “Interiors.” “Lie Awake” has a melody as haunting as Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” while “Sinking Stone” is buoyed by an aching chorus, and “My Love Follows You Where You Go” is impelled by a rolling banjo run as steadfast as the pledge of fidelity professed in its lyrics.
The most sublime performances here, though, are easily Krauss’s crepuscular readings of Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day” and Jackson Browne’s “My Opening Farewell.” Both songs are inspired choices, especially for Krauss’s ethereal soprano, an instrument that possesses the uncanny knack for being both unbearably light and able to convey such gravitas and such deep wells of emotion.