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Radiohead – [Album]

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Tuesday, 01 March 2011

Does anybody else’s jaw hurt? Because I’m pretty sure we all just got sucker punched by Thom Yorke. 

After the release of In Rainbows in 2007, mum has been the word of the day for Radiohead. The creative megalithic beast that was their first album without EMI seemed to have worn the group down, but now they’ve come out swinging with a one-two punch of announcing King of Limbs a week before its' release date, and then releasing it a day even earlier than that. 

If that isn’t enough to get fans’ heads spinning, the music on this album certainly will. Featuring a jaunty eight tracks and clocking in at roughly thirty-seven minutes, a rock opera this doesn’t make. It stands as the shortest Radiohead album to date, and their album with the strongest emphasis on rhythm, with its low-end sprawl through the land of bass and sampled beats. And that’s no sneak attack. Radiohead telegraphs the punches they’ll pull immediately on “Bloom,” a track that starts off with distorted piano and sampled beats that are quick and snappy, but rings through as altogether different from any convention Radiohead has presented before. It’s immediately clear that King Of Limbs is not OK Computer, nor is it In Rainbows. This is something new. Yorke’s vocals skim over the sample beats, long and trembling, like he does. “Bloom” finishes with a sense of broadness; a large room of a song that doesn’t vary a whole lot.

So begins King of Limbs' dance around the ring, with each track having its' own individual sound. “Morning Mr. Magpie” transitions nicely from “Bloom,” with similarities but more differences to note, with its' choppy bass lines over brisk clipping percussion. Yorke provides the smoothing factor, glossing the snappiness of the song before falling into distortion and static. Bursting forth from that perfectly gray fray is “Little by Little” which is centered around a bass line that bears an altogether-too-close similarity to a half-dozen things that Beck has recorded.

Lively bass beats and rattling percussion drive the song with hints of older Radiohead fare and, by “Feral,” the beats that have provided so much groundwork for the album taken over completely; making a song that feels distinctly electronica in its' construction. 

Then comes the infamous “Lotus Flower” – the song with the video which shows a gyrating Yorke boogieing down to a song that I’m not sure is boogie-worthy. Sitting-in-your-room-and-contemplating-life-worthy? Sure. “Lotus Flower” carries over lots of samey-feeling beats from the aforementioned “Feral,” though this seems to have more things going on; it’s a little quicker, and there's a little more haste running through it. This is probably the standout of the album — not just because of Yorke’s gyrating music video — it’s just solid. Tight, compact, shiny and hard, “Lotus Flower” is a beautiful piece of work.

From here, the album starts winding down with “Codex,” a track with some serious Coldplay flavor going on. With its' piano-meets-Yorke combo taking up most of the song and adding some nice warmth to an album that’s had a lot of cold electronic elements thus far, it is a reprieve from King Of Limbs' earlier run-time, and “Give Up The Ghost” continues that trend with — wait for it — an acoustic guitar. By the time listeners reach “Separator,” the style has swung around full circle, and the sampled beats that opened up the album closing it out. 

After a thirty-seven-minute round, it’s fair to say that even after a prolonged absence, Radiohead has once again knocked out its' listeners with this new album, proving that they are — and always were — the heavyweight champs of their music.

Artist:

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The physical format release of King Of Limbs happens on March 29, 2011. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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Radiohead – [Album]

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Tuesday, 11 December 2007

 

First of all: this will not be about money. It will not be about the music industry or naming your own price. It will discuss neither pros nor cons, and it will draw from no prominent artists, producers, or otherwise notable figures their opinion on how In Rainbows is saving, sullying, or anything-ing the future of music. This is just a fucking album review, and it’s past overdue if you ask me.

My immediate reaction to "15 Step" is full of hope. The opening sounds of Hail To The Thief were those of a guitar being plugged in, and then the album went on to feature Radiohead’s most impressive axework since "My Iron Lung." And OK Computer kicked off with sleigh bells and distorted cellos, and fuck all if that isn’t an equally appropriate primer for the rest of the album. You can see then why it was such a thrill for me to push play and immediately hear drums. Dancey drums.

Okay, so I’ve read all the interesting approaches and angles on reviewing this album that everyone’s been gussying up like it’s sweeps week for music blogs. Normally, I wouldn’t buy into all that bullshit, in fact I’d probably swing it back to the other extreme just for individuality’s sake, but this is Radiohead. This is MY turf. So prepare yourselves for some abstruse material. Also, for the record, my review encompasses both discs together as a fluid collection of instruments. Suck on that, Stereogum.

The Drums: Phil Selway is really pulling some subversive stuff through his percussion work here. Ignoring the fact that he completely pulls a Ringo on "Bodysnatchers" and "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi" (i.e. blasé beats with little to no fills), his rhythms keep a very subtle imbalance, pushing and pulling in all sorts of strange places. Needless to say, the effect is fascinating. Nowhere is this more evident than "Videotape," where Phil comes in halfway through the song with what sounds like his impression of a man hobbling down a hallway and then switches to a syncopated hi-hat tap. To be honest, I wish he’d lay down some more of the intense whomp that was such a big hit on songs like "Electioneering," "Go To Sleep" and "There There," but he’s working his own game and I respect that.

The Vocals: There are two different things I look for in Thom Yorke’s vocals. First is his ability to express complex emotions with nonsense that’s only understandable when he’s got a really solid line to deliver. The second is his perfect vacillations between low and high notes, between singing sweetly and yelling sourly, and between swallowing consonants and hanging on to syllables for superhuman lengths. It gives him a shaman-like eccentricity, blending wisdom and bafflegab into a lullaby of insanity. The best example of this is "Nude," an obscure caution on insatiability and naïveté. Of course, Thom has proved that he can function as just another piece of a song, and "Reckoner" is beautiful proof of that. Also on my tracklist of life-changer lyrics are "Videotape," "4 Minute Warning," "House Of Cards," and "Down Is The New Up." My only gripe is that I’ve become accustomed to Thom’s most excellent vocal style, and this album isn’t new ground or much of a challenge for him. Say what you will about the steady decline of Mars Volta records, but that guy discovers new octaves every release.

The Bass: This one goes first over the guitar the same way bassist Colin Greenwood went first in the birthing order over his younger brother Jonny. On another note, I really wish people would stop viewing the bass as secondary to guitar. I’ll take a killer bass riff over a scorching guitar solo any day. Thankfully, Colin knows just what I like. His grooves do not push, they press. He uses rests with just as much skill as notes. He makes "Bodysnatchers" the hit single that it is—almost singlehandedly I’d say—and he’s the perfect anti-Thom on "Nude." I know that I’m never going to convince anyone how much of a keystone he and his bass lines are, but just go ahead and try to imagine "Up On The Ladder" without the cold, liquid seep of that bass underneath the wicked heat of the scratching guitars. It would be almost unlistenable.

The Guitar: In case you didn’t know, Jonny Greenwood is probably one of the most amazing musicians currently writing. He’s the BBC’s composer-in-residence and I’m fairly certain that when he coughs, it makes the sound of compelling film soundtracks. It doesn’t hurt that he plays every instrument imaginable, and a few that aren’t imaginable (the Ondes Martenot comes to mind). That’s not meant to disparage the talent of Ed O’ Brien, Jonny just has a sweeter résumé. They make excellent use of nimble fingerwork here, especially on "Reckoner" and "Faust Arp," but that’s not the gusto that keeps me chained irreversibly to the speaker whenever Hail To The Thief or OK Computer is played. Their ability to make creepy-ass guitar noise is second to none, and always has been. Remember the lightning-crunch double swipes from "Creep?" Yeah, their stuff is tops. Unfortunately there aren't a great deal of opportunities for them to show off, since the album largely overlooks the sickety-sweet licks that we’d all assumed were back for good with Hail To The Thief. Not that I’m particularly surprised, after all, since I think Kid A and Amnesiac were truer expressions of their compositional passions, but I do miss it. Whatever they did to make a guitar sound like bee-stung upright bass on "Bangers & Mash" needs to be far more prevalent.

The Other: The keys on "Down Is The New Up" are so good I could eat a toaster. Also, whatever it is that makes noise on "Go Slowly" is haunting my dreams. In separate news, I’m fairly certain that "All I Need" was recorded using a twelve-story tall keyboard. God, this is the part about Radiohead that sinks the nails into my aural coffin. I know I’ve already mentioned my epiphanic experience as a pre-teen with the promethean OK Computer in articles previous to this one, but really it was those extra sounds that did it. I sit here wondering if I’m hearing it correctly or if I’ve actually been swept into another world, a Radioworld, in which these sounds simply always occur.

Well, that’s that. I’d give you a summation score, but that would be contrived. If you need three decimal places to decide whether or not you’re going to pick this up for Christmas, I can’t help you. I will recommend, however, that you buy as many Radiohead recordings as you can and give them to children.

For more information, visit radiohead.com/deadairspace

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