We here ’round these Big Plan parts don’t take too kindly to music criticism. But considering the Internet’s unnatural obsession with all things Radiohead, we thought it may be appropriate to take a look at their new album The King of Limbs, which was released over the internet last week. Everyone got super-bonerified over it, and now we have a new eight track LP from the world’s favorite gloomified band. So how’s it sound?
Not unlike its sudden release, the sound comes out of nowhere. Their last album, 2007’s In Rainbows, was somewhere between relatively accessible (as much as any Radiohead song post-The Bends, anyway) and a noodley bliss-out. King of Limbs opens with a string of jittery electronic ticks that sound appropriate to where the band was ten years ago.
That’s not to say that this music sounds dated, or even a rehash of the band’s material. This string of songs, which I’d isolate to the first five, find a chaotic rhythm underneath all of the debris. I have to admit this isn’t quite my cup of tea in music, and as of my eighth listen to the album I’m still haven’t gotten in deep with these tracks, especially ‘Morning Mr Magpie’ which, aside from doing a great job of sounding like a song title from the Beatles, is flat and grey. Even for Radiohead this is a bit removed.
But knowing Radiohead, and how much I’ve come to understand the tracks since the album was made available last Friday, I know there’s a lot yet to be discovered here. Radiohead isn’t a band known for writing music that gives you everything immediately, and I know I’m not alone in being eager to discover the album for everything it has to offer me.
But this dense sound begins to waver a bit by the begginning of the second half, with ‘Lotus Flower’ (which you may have seen the video for, in which frontman Thom Yorke vibrates for five minutes.) There’s still some digital noise going on this fifth track, but Yorke’s vocals ease up and expand. He holds notes and lets them ring in your speakers. The album’s loosening up.
The rest of the second half continues in this direction – suddenly, we’re listening to more acoustic, gentle music. The one-two punch of ‘Codex’ and ‘Give Up the Ghost’ create a powerfully relaxing effect – to call them pretty would be a severe understatement. Radiohead has often created tracks that are gorgeous in non-traditional ways (think Morning Bell or There There); but these two tracks are gentle, gorgeous masterpieces. In all seriousness, I write this as I listen to ‘Codex,’ and my eyes just watered up a little bit.
The last track, ‘Separator’ recedes back a bit into digital territory – it’s still got a quiet side with a thick bass guitar line, but also has a high-in-the-mix fierce electronic drum beat. I’m of the mind that drummer Phil Selway is the most underpraised member of the band, but I can’t help but think the album might have worked better if the band let the track ease off at the end without so much percussion.
The overall album is easily halved, with ‘Lotus Flower’ working somewhere in the middle. This is nothing new – the second half of ‘In Rainbows’ could be its own, almost ambient, album. You can go back further to the ‘Kid A’ / ‘Amnesiac’ era, when Radiohead recorded two albums during the same recording sessions.
As I continue to listen to The King of Limbs (and I certainly will, lots), I’m eager to find out if the two halves ever sync together more seamlessly. It just doesn’t feel like one album to me. But the quality alone of these songs are pretty spectacular, and even though I might not have final opinion of it just yet, I know it will be deserving a spot in one of the most remarkable bands of my time. It already is.