The King of Limbs

Posted in Music on November 4th, 2011 by Tom

I’ve been listening to this record for quite a few months now (since practically the hour of its release) and I gotta say I’m still not totally sold on it. A lot of the usual nomenclature of reviews becomes useless when we talk about a fairly non-traditional group like Radiohead, but I’ll do my best.

To begin with, saying something along the lines of ‘it’s a departure from their previous work’ is kindof a pointless comment. Radiohead albums are nearly always marked by a distinct (and often radical) evolution in sound from album to album, so no surprise there. I guess in the past though, I always eventually warmed up to the new thing, and despite my best efforts, that’s not happening here.

In my defense, I’m not trying to like the record because I think I should. This tenacity is based on my personal experience with Yorke and co., wherein I have almost without fail disliked every one of their records upon my initial listen, but slowly grew to love each of them quite a lot. Still waiting on that for TKOL.

Why? Geez, man. I think I just don’t really like dub-step? Maybe? Who knows. Let’s start with what I did like. In a nutshell, it’s this:

‘Little By Little’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Little By Little‘ is the track where I feel that this ever-present rattle of fast-paced percussion that pervades the album works best. It makes the most interesting use of Yorke’s voice, and seems to have a more intricate layering of instrumentation than the other songs. I like that it’s a dark track, with intentions tending towards ill rather than good. Having something sound malevolent without being outright evil takes some subtlety, and the craftsmanship it praiseworthy.

But then you get dumped from that right into a track like ‘Feral’ which sounds like random tones bouncing around in some echo chamber where a drum machine was left on. It was tracks like this that I found difficult to access and almost impossible to process or comprehend. Radiohead has always taken out typical song elements and replaced them with unorthodox sounds to achieve something new, but it seems as if they finally took out one two many things, and that stands in their place is often not enough.

‘Lotus Flower’ is our only other real anchor on the record, it has the bizarre tonality of the rest of the album, but it also has some substance, giving it weight and dimension, and therein making it a really enjoyable track to listen to.

A song I’d characterize as ‘wraith-like’, haunting in it’s emptiness, is the cinematic ‘Codex‘:

[ mp3 ♫ ]

And for a closer, ‘Separator’ isn’t bad, but it’s also a little underwhelming, and a little stupid. “If you think this is over / then you’re wrong.” Really? By my count, ‘Separator’ is track 8 of 8, and the album is a short 8 at that.

Anything not mentioned here isn’t bad, but just didn’t seem noteworthy to me. But I don’t wanna harp on Radiohead. Far from it.

Every record of theirs I view as an experiment to push the boundaries of music, laughing at the very notion of genre. This one did exactly what its predecessors did in that regard, and I’ve no doubt that the group will take what they learned from The King of Limbs and create something even weirder and more amazing on their next outing.

I’ve just got my fingers crossed that it’s more fun to listen to than this was (and a few minutes longer, too!).

Radiohead – The King of Limbs


The Universal Sigh

Posted in Music on March 29th, 2011 by Tom

Today Radiohead’s eclectic album release tie-in, an honest-to-god newsprinted copy of a one-off periodical titled The Universal Sigh, along with the CD copy of The King of Limbs, was released. Being lucky enough to be just a 15 minute train ride from one of two spots in Boston where it was being distributed, I took a break from school to make an afternoon of it.

Low and behold, as I approached the record store, two requisitely-cute hipster girls were waiting, complete with newspaper bags from old times, to hand me my copy of this bizarre “periodical.” A really cool part of the whole thing was that they snap a picture of you with the paper, and they’re all posted to the official ‘Universal Sigh’ page. I’m on the second page of the Boston (Newbury Street) location; try to guess which one I am! Hint: I am the boringest white guy.

The paper in question is a curiosity which doesn’t disappoint. There’s a lot of free-verse, poetry type stuff, as well as a few essays and pieces of artwork, and even some lyrics from ‘Morning Mr Magpie‘ My favorite weird thing is the center page has a ton of weird phrases, arranged in typographically interesting ways. I like it because I can’t help but hear it as read by the ‘Fitter, Happier’-Mac-voice-guy.

‘Morning Mr Magpie’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

My favorite essay is the last one, a Twilight Zone-esque post-apocalyptic piece by Stanley Donwood, who has done a lot of album artwork for Radiohead in the past. And speaking of the guy, when I went inside to actually buy the album Newbury Comics was doing some type of promotion where I got a print of a painting titled ‘Divided Wood’ by Donwood, inspired by King of Limbs. You can see it in the grainy photo I took of all my Radiohead loot at the top of this post.

I’m still trying to digest the album at this point. With most stuff, I don’t have qualms about punching up a few thoughts after 10-15 listens, but every single Radiohead album I’ve heard has needed to be processed, and that takes time. Even then, when I put something together in April, I doubt that will be the final word. It never is, with these guys.

While I was at the record store, I also picked up the new Broken Bells EP, and the most recent full-lengths from the Strokes and the Sounds, so it’ll be nice to have some new material in rotation.

The Universal Sigh


Absolut New Order

Posted in Music on August 5th, 2009 by Tom

In the waning weeks of my time up here in Boston, I was sitting around with Coner, my roommate, watching the Daily Show. One of the advertisements we saw was for Absolut Vodka, and it struck me in a funny way. There was something… familiar about it. Took me a bit to place it, but I finally recognized New Order’s ‘Ceremony’ noodling around in the background. I can’t tell if it’s a new recording or has just been mastered differently, but either way it was still good to hear such a classic track over a pretty well-crafted ad (or at least one with decent production value):

Ceremony‘ is a track I only just heard this summer. For all I owe them in shaping my current musical fancies, I have knowledge of an embarrassingly small amount of the Joy Division/New Order catalog. But earlier, I saw the track, and grabbed it off the net. Soon after, I found a Radiohead cover of the same song, and I like them both very much. The spot of trivia I also learned was that this was one of the last songs penned by Ian Curtis, and as such, it represents a strange bridge between the two groups.

[ mp3 ♫ ]

[ mp3 ♫ ]

Conceived by Curtis under the Joy Division moniker, it was not recorded until after his suicide, then by the reformed band under the name New Order. It was their first single, and though they would later top it with ‘Blue Monday’ (the best-selling single of all time, please note), it remains an important track in the chronology of both ‘groups’, and has the staying power to match.

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