Tuesday, February 22, 2011

And now presenting King of Limbs...

The album is out and the jury has decided! Here's my review, reposted from Beyondrace.com.

Radiohead is an anomaly, in more ways than many. Since 1993, every studio album has been met with worldwide anticipation and critical success, as they continue to be at the forefront of new strategies, be it musical, promotional, or artistic. Each of their albums, although all distinctly Radiohead, enter the world as unique creatures; King of Limbs, their eighth studio effort, is no different. The eight-track album seethes emotion via complex musical landscapes, and Thom Yorke’s almost ghostly voice.

It may be their shortest record to date, especially considering the dual-disc of 2007’s In Rainbows, but Yorke was shooting for brevity: “None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off.” The only downside to this is that Radiohead albums build to a brilliant and highly emotional finale (“Street Spirit,” “The Tourist,” “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” etc.), but King of Limbs just doesn’t have the breadth to allow for its final song, “Separator,” to close the album with a howl. That’s not to say it isn’t beautiful…but let’s start at the beginning.

As the years pass, Radiohead has been getting progressively more atmospheric and ambient, and King of Limbs reflects this increasing musical maturity and sense of experimentation. “Bloom” opens with whimsical sounds of a mysterious nature, giving way to marching drum beats of a slightly off-kilter rhythm. Yorke’s melancholic vocals soon waltz in: echoing, coiling, and receding into the multi-layered abyss. He sings, “Open your mouth wide, a universal sigh/ And while the ocean blooms, it's what keeps me alive.” The instrumentation swells—epic and enchanting, rife with horns and voices—yet the simple marching beat remains, creating a strange juxtaposition between the unbound and the firmly planted. Like Radiohead perfected on Kid A, “Bloom” transitions smoothly into “Morning Mr. Magpie,” which loses that drumbeat but picks up the pace by reigning in the sprawl. Here, Yorke’s voice is more resolute as he sings, “You got some nerve, coming here.” The electronics settle down to allow for a contemplative series of “ooh’s” between verses, which becomes almost eerie. Finally, the music all but disappears, leaving a piercing hum in the space where Yorke’s voice used to be.

Skipping ahead, “Feral” possesses an “Idioteque”-esque beat, with a truly haunting quality that evokes steampunk imagery. Yorke’s vocals dance with electronic purrs that keep sweeping upwards onto the surface of the song. Without perceivable lyrics, “Feral” undulates with mystical obscurity, then spirals into “Lotus Flower,” welcoming in a new set of sounds and Yorke’s clear lyrics: “I will sink and I will disappear/ I will slip into the groove and cut me up.” It’s nowhere near as heartbreaking as Kid A’s “How To Disappear Completely,” but the escalating backing sounds and Yorke’s falsetto can’t help but conjure some inner emotion. However, no song on King is more touching, or perhaps more beautiful, than “Codex.” A somber piano all but revives us after so many complicated arrangements, and reminds us just how potent Radiohead can be at its core. The echoes and swells of other instruments perfectly compliment the sense of longing inherent in the piano's melody, and one can imagine this song as a heavily saturated photograph, with colors almost bleeding off the page to stain your hands.

A slight pause so we can collect our breath, and then off we go to “Give Up The Ghost.” The song creeps in gently, introducing an acoustic guitar and another chance to feel moved to emotional expression. A refrain of “In your arms, don't hurt me” rises from the  center, and seems to counteract Codex’s lyric, “No one gets hurt, you've done nothing wrong.” Throughout King, Yorke addresses an anonymous “you,” which makes the songs relatable and also very intimate, especially considering how obscure some of his earlier lyrics could be. The song shines and lingers until gradually giving way to “Seperator” through a series of electrical sparks. Once this final song takes hold, the tempo picks up as familiar electronic pulses come back to guide us. Optimistic and just catchy enough, it definitely leaves listeners wanting more. And maybe that’s what Radiohead intended this time…they offered us just a taste, just thirty-seven minutes, until the next one.

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