Friday, February 18, 2011

King Of Limbs: An Early Review

I'm sitting here at 8:13 AM, having just downloaded Radiohead's new album The King Of Limbs, and I figured it might be cool to write some initial responses to this recently-announced joint (not a second of which I've heard yet). Hopefully by the end of this article my mind will be blown by yet another Radiohead album. Let's find out together which tracks are "Radiohead-good" and which tracks are merely "good." And who knows, maybe it will suck.

1. Bloom
A very claustrophobic electrics 'n snare number whose biggest hook is a constant looping two-note figure--it makes previous opener "15 Step," seem hard-rocking by comparison. The intensity of the piece reminds me a bit of Kid A, but it leans more toward the ambient material of that album. Imagine the track "Kid A" except sung at Thom's normal register. A weird start: I'm predicting more dub material from these guys, but will any song truly rock?

2. Morning Mr. Magpie
This picks up the speed a little bit, though the irregular drum pattern is similar to "Bloom," with some choppy, almost Afrobeat rhythm guitar playing. Yorke's voice is a similarly disembodied, oppressive thing, but there are two other parts to this track which interest me: one where the beat disappears altogether and Jonny/Colin Greenwood appear to be building up some epic springy guitar noise, and a brief coda at the end that transforms "Morning Mr. Magpie"'s irregularity into something danceable.

So, so far: two tracks that sound like the Liars.

3. Little By Little
There's a weird psychedelic sheen to the beginning of this song, with some crazy percussion and some "I Might Be Wrong"--type drop-D riffage (it occurs to me that so far this album is like Amnesiac to In Rainbows' Kid A, although these weren't products of the same session). So far, this is the best Yorke performance, the first where he doesn't just seem to be yodeling over a constrictive beat. The title "Little By Little" makes sort of sense--I hope this album gets a more liberatory vibe as it progresses.

4. Feral
Again, "Feral" isn't really what I expected, although it continues the trend of tightly-looped mood drums (when does Phil Selway get to play a 4/4 beat? Remember when they were all over In Rainbows?). In fact, nothing about this song at first differentiates it much from "Morning Mr. Magpie." But then, "Feral" builds into something different, a sort of synth-bass guided gospel harmony. None of these songs seem to have any real build-up--those of you who complain that OK Computer is too airless and unfriendly, I don't know what to tell you here.

On second thought, I'm hearing some of the background guitar noises (this album has a lot of subtle things going on in the background), and I'm definitely starting to get into this sound more.

5. Lotus Flower
This might be the closest thing King Of Limbs has to a single, and I believe an accompanying video is coming out today. Finally, Phil Selway is playing a regular beat, although there's still some electronic treating going on with that hi-hat. Yorke's vocals here are probably the best on the album so far--hell, I am literally listening as I write this, and this is already becoming one of my favorite vocal performances he's ever done. Lots of (non-synth) handclaps as well. More afrobeat guitar, and a chorus of lovely Thoms at the end. Awesome.

6. Codex
Finally, something approaching a rich, open piano ballad, something Radiohead writes better than anyone else (think "Pyramid Song," "Videotape," live versions of "Like Spinning Plates"). "Codex" is more of a solo Thom piece (I think), with some rich, funereal horn-playing, but don't confuse this with "Life In A Glasshouse," which was a far weirder brass number. This, by contrast, is more subtle, and more befitting of a band who have seemingly tired (who wouldn't?) of trying to always defy expectations. I'm getting into the groove of this album now--songs like "Codex" reveal how much sonic depth one often misses on first listen. Everything on King Of Limbs seems to be building toward some sort of manic conclusion...or will the album end the way it began, true to the cyclical style of its drum beats?

7. Give Up The Ghost
The piano ballad gets followed by an acoustic ballad (I'm not sure about the sequencing choices here), and a Neil Young-ish one at that. I imagine it's Jonny Greenwood on the acoustic (as he was on "Faust Arp") [EDIT: On second listen I think it's actually Thom on acoustic, didn't hear as much in the background last time], but there are some other things going on that may require a few more listens to parse (disclosure: I am listening to this quietly, as to not disturb my roommate at 9:08 AM, and this is the regular-quality version). If I'm not mistaken, Colin Greenwood gets some dubby lines as well. Where's Ed O'Brien throughout this record? Maybe I'm just unable to tell. Like when I first heard Kid A, I couldn't tell who would play what live, but then it turned out to by Jonny on the Ondes Martinet and Ed wrangling weird non-guitar noises that you couldn't really hear on record. Final verdict on "Give Up The Ghost": could've been on On The Beach.

8. Separator
Phil Selway gets his "Funky Drummer" on, slightly, and as I expected the album ends by letting a little bit of air out of the sails. "Separator" demonstrates the kind of tension/release schismatic that differentiates Radiohead from a band like the Liars, but there seems to be less of that than ever on this album. I'm sad to report that, as this is the last track, there is virtually no rocking to be had on the album in total (even In Rainbows had "Bodysnatchers"). To be fair, this is pretty close to the type of album I had imagined, as an extension of non-album tracks "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)" and "These Are My Twisted Words." Neither of those songs impressed me that much, but it's definitely a unique, new style that works within Radiohead's atraditional rock framework. "Separator" could use an extra coda or two, but I think I'll be able to decide that better once I really listen to this album's basswork, which will require a lot more parsing.

In fact, I think this might secretly be Colin's album. I'll update with more responses as they come to me. I can't imagine running out of things to say anytime soon.

EDIT: I'm already hearing whispers from certain Internet hiveminders claiming this to be the first honest-to-goodness Radiohead failure. To those I say: turn up your subwoofers. The proof of this album is in the bass tones, and having given it another listen, I find Colin Greenwood's parts (like the little bass coda at the end of "Morning Mr. Magpie") even more striking.

1 comment:

  1. No joke about the bass. My car's subwoofer nearly shat itself this morning. Especially on Morning Mr. Magpie. You're right about there being just TONS of stuff happening in the background. I'm not sure my crappy stereo is even pumping out half of what's happening.