Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Radiohead - The King of Limbs review

As you all probably know already, Radiohead kind of dropped a bomb a few days ago when they announced that their eighth studio album, The King of Limbs, would be released digitally on February 18th.  It's been a few days, and I feel as though I've had the proper amount of time and opportunity to pour over their latest offering.  Before I get into a track by track review, let me highlight some things about the album:
  • The pay-what-you-want scheme of In Rainbows has been done away with.
  • The album's name comes from a very old, kind-of-scary looking oak tree.
  • You can download the album via MP3 or WAV format from
  • A physical release of the album is coming March 28th.
  • A special "newspaper" edition of the album is going to be released on May 9th, which is going to be comprised of two 10" LPs, a CD copy, and tons of artwork.
In 2009, Thom Yorke commented on the future of Radiohead releases by saying: "None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off. I mean, it's just become a real drag. It worked with In Rainbows because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we've all said that we can’t possibly dive into that again. It’ll kill us."  At thirty-seven minutes and a meager eight tracks, The King of Limbs is Radiohead's shortest album to date.

In the time between In Rainbows and The King of Limbs, Radiohead released the tracks "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)" and "These Are My Twisted Words", leaving the world speculative at best concerning what direction the band would take for future releases.  The King of Limbs proves to be a sort of amalgamation of the styles present in almost all of their previous studio albums.

The album's opener, "Bloom", begins with a skittering piano riff that dissolves into an erratic polyrhythmic drumming pattern, coupled with swells of ambient electronic bleepy bloops and industrial dissonance before introducing Yorke's voice.  Strings and horns accompany birds tweeting and singing as the sonic landscape is thrown into upheaval around them.  "Bloom" has a very organic feel to it, almost as if the world is slowly being deconstructed, but with careful precision.

The second track, "Morning Mr. Magpie", evokes a similar feel to that of "These Are My Twisted Words", albeit it lacks the unnerving sense of dread that accompanied the stand alone release.  Yorke sings, "You got some nerve/ coming here", and the jerky guitar play perfectly highlights a sensation of agitation.  The song continues this trend, however it never escalates, failing to demand my attention, before ultimately petering out into hazy feedback.

"Little by Little" is a rollicking display of tension building within the structure of song.  The intense percussive layers seem to be battling the slowly plucked guitar notes, almost as if the instruments are battling for dominance, and the listeners attention, which creates a perfectly balanced sense of chaos.

"Feral", is a largely instrumental track, as Yorke's voice is more or less used as another instrument, and it easily could have been on James Blake's latest EP.  As the title suggests, "Feral" is like a wild animal stricken with rabies, violently plodding along without any real sense of direction or purpose.  It runs around in circles nonsensically and needs to be put down.

"Lotus Flower" is the album's "sexy" track.  A neo-noir nightclub number that is romantic, yet dangerous.  A deadly auditory femme-fatale that entrances you and leaves you lulled into a euphoric coma.

"Codex" is a heart-wrenching piano ballad that ushers in Yorke's subtle and subdued vocals and propels them to dramatic heights without straining them.  It is an introspective piece, a haunting song that delivers its melancholic brew right down to the last drop.

"Give Up The Ghost" is an acoustically driven song that sees Yorke's vocals layered on top of each other.  It is a slow burning song that, sounds more like an album closer than any other song on the album.  It doesn't necessarily deliver the goods sonically, but it swirls and sweeps with just the right amount of enthusiasm.

The album's closer, "Separator" is a mellow song that creates a yawning atmosphere that allows the listener to get lost in the reverberating swells that inflate, distend and bulge throughout the song, carrying it to the albums close.

Overall, The King of Limbs is a bit of a mixed bag.  It is very low key, and encompasses virtually every stylistic nuance of Radiohead's long and illustrious career.  The first half of the album is jittery, with the instrumentation and arrangements bouncing around chaotically, whereas the second half of the album is withdrawn and somber.  Radiohead won't win any new fans with this album, but most will find it to be a rewarding listen as each track is dense and complex, lending itself to auditory exploration, especially if you have a good set of headphones.  That being said, I highly doubt that The King of Limbs will be considered this decades Kid A, but at the very least it works on several levels.  It is an album that will require patience and attention to be appreciated, something that many people simply don't have the time to do anymore.

Listen to the album, in it's entirety here.

No comments: