Monday, June 6, 2011

The End of the Tunnel has Nine Types of Light

A couple of weeks ago, my school year ended.  Awesome.  After some heartfelt goodbyes from our 8th graders and an overly enthusiastic (and loud) countdown, the student body flooded the buses and headed home, leaving the staff in a stunned yet blissful silence.  Of course, this is not really the end for the teachers, who have to inspect and clear their rooms for summer cleaning.  For a furious day and a half, teachers organize, stack, and submit for approval their rooms.   At the end, chairs are stacked in corners and in halls so that a nine months worth of wear and tear can be swept clean in preparation for next year.  Although this can be a bit of a push towards the end, the school, bustling with activity a mere hour earlier, is hushed by a quiet that beckons us to finish and get on with our summer, whatever shape it may take.

Just like in almost every other case, this situation is a little different for the band director.  The immense amount of expensive equipment that I have to deal with on a daily basis makes this cleanup process a little more complicated than that of the academic classrooms.  While the clean-up crews are generally OK with pushing a desk or a filing cabinet out of the way, they are usually a little less comfortable moving timpani and sound equipment.  With some careful planning and some elbow grease, however, the band hall will be spotless in no time at all.  I may take pictures.

Having the aforementioned sound equipment on hand also makes this process a little more tolerable.  When I began cleaning, the stereo, loud enough for a class full of beginner trombones to play along with, suddenly changed its usual diet of wind ensemble literature and inexplicably began playing TV on the Radio’s Nine Types of Light (OK, maybe I helped it a little).

Just as I did with its predecessor Dear Science during the Carrollton period, I listened to Nine Types of Light with a great deal of ambivalence for quite a long time.  I picked it up at the same time as the Foo Fighter’s Wasting Light, which spoke to me immediately.  True to form, I am now a little burned out on the Foos, while Nine Types of Light really started to click in the open air of the band hall.

Its possible that the site of listening may have influenced this perception.  Although hardly as heavy-handed as Scott Walker’s Tilt, Nine Types of Light feels a bit more introspective and perhaps contemplative than the usual daily commute affords.  It sounds more like an ending, like cleaning an empty band hall at the end of a demanding yet successful school year, or a handshake congratulating a job well done, or maybe even seeing an apartment take shape after a move.

From a slightly less subjective stance, I’m still fascinated by the way in which Nine Types of Light just now speaks to me, while the Foo Fighters seem to have already gone through an entire cycle.  Perhaps it is because of the expectations I brought to the listening experience.  When I got into Wasting Light, I immediately began framing in terms of past Foo Fighters albums, as well as the work of artists with a stylistic relation to them.  I like the Foos, and I like Rush, so I kind of “knew” how to listen to it.

When I started out with Nine Types of Light, I still had a very loose listening framework for TV on the Radio.  Although I came to like a couple of their earlier albums, in both cases I felt that the band was not sure what they wanted to be.  In a way, that was part of their charm.  I think, however, that Nine Types of Light is their most cohesive effort, hands down, and that their sound is consistent throughout the album.  I knew that David Bowie is a strong supporter of TV on the Radio, and the stylistic clarity that they exhibit on Nine Types of Light is reminiscent of his late 70s period, like Low without the instrumentals (or Brian Eno, for that matter).

After singlehandedly moving an extraordinary amount of percussion equipment with this album unashamedly  echoing up and down the halls of the school, I later had two opportunities to genuinely say that I liked Nine Types of Light to people who asked.  This is certainly more convincing than the “I’m not sure” that I had been using.  It may have earned a place in the year-end favorites list, as well, so check it our for yourself.

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