Thursday, February 24, 2011

Review: Radiohead - The King Of Limbs

Radiohead takes great pleasure in defying expectations. Four years removed from their acclaimed In Rainbows, a self-released album that skewered the floundering record industry by inviting fans to "pay what you like", they released their 8th album The King of Limbs with a similar flourish. Dropping vague hints and images to whip fans into a frenzy, by the time the album was released a mere 6 days after its announcement, expectations were unsurprisingly redonkulus. If their ambiguity and reclusivenss is a way of tampering expectations, they may want to consider a new business model. With that being said, there's not much Radiohead could do at this point to quell the madness that accompanies their albums.

As a collective of songs, the 37-minute King of Limbs proves to be a tough nut to crack. Opening with some of the most discordant sounds this side of Autechre, "Bloom" seems to pick up where In Rainbows' "Videotape" left off, inside of a heaving, churning machine. Like the drone of an industrious package of bolts and rubber, the pieces here are eerily synchronized, but never enough to feel comfortable or human. Even Thom Yorke's voice, the one constant through years of experimentation and innovation, is off-balance and uneasy, resigned to the sidelines and never allowed to stretch out. It goes without saying, but a chorus or anything resembling a "hook" is nowhere to be found in this opening song. Yet despite this glaring omission, the sheer volume of ideas and sounds keep you revisiting it again and again, if only to try and find something to hum along to.

The rest of the album progressively sheds the thorny exterior of the opening song, slowly bending the energetic percussion and electronic blips into traditional song structures. By the second half of the album, the songs have found their groove (or maybe we have), and the ride is decidedly smoother. The sparse gunfire drums of "Lotus Flower" give Thom's voice and feet space to dance (see below), and the gorgeous "Codex" stands up favorably to any song in their catalog.

Many have speculated that eight songs released Friday are only a part of a larger King of Limbs experience that will reveal itself at a later date, going so far as to dig up clues in old interviews or even taking Thom's final words on "Separator", "If you think this is over, then you're wrong" literally (not exactly their style). I don't know if there is any truth to the rumors, but I do know that it's nice to be captivated by music, even if it's only for 37 minutes every four years.

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