Music Review: The King of Limbs – Radiohead

Radiohead, The King of Limbs

In typical Radiohead fashion they decided to release their new album The King of Limbs, not only announcing they has a new album coming out in just five days… not only as a digital release… not only releasing the album in two different formats of divided quality and in two different packages altogether… but then releasing the album a full day earlier than originally planned. Unfortunately I didn’t get the news until after I had already left for work this morning and I had to spend to the day pacing in my skin waiting for the day to pass in order to get home. My wait was pleasantly rewarded.

I’ve mentioned before that I often have trouble getting a feel for an album upon first listen. Radiohead is among the worst for me in terms of needing the music to not only grow on me, but in order for the mood of the album to penetrate what it is that I’m either expecting or hoping for. When I first heard the album’s first single LotusFlower I admit to feeling a bit concerned… but in context with the rest of the album it’s infectious rhythm and grove become far more apparent than standing on it’s own.

The King of Limbs itself consists of eight tracks and totals less than 38 minutes. Opening with Bloom, you are immediately reminded that this is indeed a Radiohead offering… on my first listen I thought there was an error in the transfer or the track due to the sound of a digital skip/crack in the audio… and then realized the beat the skip/crack had on it’s own as it overlays the various drum loops and Thom Yorke’s voice comes through as only his particularly strained and beautiful voice can. Evidence of Jonny Greenwood’s work on There Will Be Blood‘s soundtrack are sprinkled throughout.

The second track stood out at once. With a somewhat quick hi-hat intense drum track, MorningMrMagpie introduces a strong bass and wonderfully lilting vocal track. Followed by LittleByLittle a theme became apparent in the rhythm and tone. Beginning in an almost Enrico Morricone vein, I had a sense of forward motion… on first listen the melody was lost in the percussion… but on subsequent playings the melody and gorgeous guitar work emerge.

Subtlety rules the day. Feral, the fourth track comes and goes as if part of a single arc with the previous three pieces and comes into LotusFlower. I’m amazed at times at how what first sounds dry and inaccessible can open itself in a completely unexpected way. This track does just that. Is is coincidence that the song is titled after a beautifully blooming flower… and that the first track is Bloom? That the music takes it’s time is opening up to the listener?

At Codex, the sixth track, the tone shifts. Thom takes his place at the piano and the forward motion comes to a slow almost rain soaked piece with horns and almost melts into the seventh track, GiveUpTheGhost. Instead of piano and horns we are treated to a guitar and bass drum punctuated song using backing vocals like a bow across a cello’s belly. A drone of layered voices and the pleading desire of Yorke’s upper range… a sober feeling… by no means sad, but quieting.

The final cut, Separator, feels like an amalgam of the album. Mellow with the rapid hi-hat and foreground bass… like almost every song on the album, a number of minor and atmospheric electronic accents scattered throughout… some stereo panning fun and a pleasant exit.

To say that any Radiohead album is layered and complex would be somewhat akin to saying a Beatles album has some catchy pop songs… these are the givens. Beginning with OK Computer and reinforced doubly with Kid A and each succeeding release, we have come to expect certain boundaries to be pushed or at the very least to hear something new. I can’t say this album has pushed anything beyond where they have taken us before… but it does give us something new… and new Radiohead is something many people are happy to receive, myself included.

Open up and say,
Cornelius J. Blahg

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