Saturday, February 19, 2011

Review: The King of Limbs

Radiohead's The King of Limbs e-dropped yesterday, a day ahead of schedule. Critics are flummoxed, yet everyone and their moms have already reviewed it.

For a few musings and commentary, read on. For a hastily-written track-by-track description, see any other website anywhere.

The Music
Download the album (or sample). Listen, then read.

Lotus Flower: Already the popular single of the bunch, and the vocals sit out for the first ¼ of the song! Clap along. They sure like the number 5. Love it! Little touches like this even overshadow the weird dancing. Count all the different sound sources in this unassuming gem. They make great use of their impressive electro-acoustic sonic palette.

Codex and Give Up the Ghost: Man, these guys go a long way with ~35 words. Vague as ever, and just concrete enough to mean anything you need them to. I seriously might start meditating to Codex. "The water's clear and innocent." Defeated, hopeful, reflective, detached. Yorke could affect the same just singing the phone book.

Bloom: This track has a nice layered ambience to it. Cross-rhythmed synths, jittery percussion, and a subtly active bass churn along under the strung-out vocals. Oops, left-channel Thom jumps the gun at 3:47 - love it! Snare's a little hot in the mix, though.

Feral and Morning Mr. Magpie: Both vying for the uptempo slot, clocking in near 136 bpm. If you're looking for more of Radiohead's aggressive bent - busy percussion/bass with brief and punctuated electro-weirdness - start with Feral. Morning Mr. Magpie offers a tad more lyricism, albeit edgy and accusatory. If you exercise to strange pop music like me, file this pair a couple notches under 2+2=5 and Sit Down Stand Up.

Little By Little and Separator: Poppy guitar and vocals, I guess, but not much to catch my ear (yet). Little By Little seems to be among the internet's favorite. And Separator sure panders to speculations of a multi-album vision. Wait and see.

The Reviews
Luke Lewis of gets my Best Review Award:

"[...] sound organic and synthetic at the same time, dredging human feeling from seemingly forbidding material."
"It's no In Rainbows."
Apart from his puzzling characterization of "bracingly avant-garde" (Really? Really??), he's mostly right on. He also gets bonus points for not mentioning Philip Glass even once. Speaking of...

"Meedly-beep, meedly-beep, meedly-beep"
Oh, that sounds just like Philip Glass! If you believe the internets, any repeating pattern now sounds like Glass. But ask yourself, where does that meedly-beep end up by the end of the piece?...
Kids, listen up. Radiohead has about as much in common with Glass as Queen does with Vanilla Ice. Glass has gradually (fittingly?) grown into the most mis-cited music influence of our time. Critics, please learn the basics of process music and minimalism! Glass, your subjects, and your audience all deserve better.

The Expectations
A return to OK Computer's familiarity... A continuation of the driving, electro-experimentation of Hail to the Thief and in Rainbows... A catchy melody... That missing jigsaw piece... Whatever people were expecting, many didn't seem to find it in the first 24 hours post-The King of Limbs.

Radiohead's brilliance, success, and enigmatic PR has painted the band into a strange corner. On first listening, anything less than mind-blowing seems a disappointment. But this is no throw-away album. Live with it for a few weeks, and see how its layers grow on you.

It's not yet my favorite offering, but 100% worth your time, attention, and $ (or £). Get it here. Leave thoughts below.

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