Radiohead – The King of Limbs (2011, Self-Released)

It is noon on a Friday as I write this. I, along with millions of people around the globe, were waiting for a few hours more, but now no longer have to. We’ve followed them since the beginning, and hung on through the rough times of their existence. It’s been almost 4 years since their last return, and now, after many cryptic interviews and live shows later, the time has unexpectedly come for them to return to the front of the line again. Ladies and gentlemen, The King of Limbs has arrived.

Radiohead, one of the greatest alternative rock bands of our generation, in my opinion, released on Valentine’s Day earlier this week, an announcement that completely shocked the world. The morning after all the Grammy awards were passed out, Radiohead announced a new album would be released just 5 days later on Saturday. Whereas everyone expected the hype of the night before to hit every news station, instead, Radiohead’s announcement quickly took their place, taking over the world and crashing many websites in the process. Thousands of people per minute were looking to see just what the new album was about, but come to find out, there was not an inkling about what tracks would be on the album, what the sound was going to be, or anything, besides the fact that the digital download was available in MP3 or WAV formats, and that there would also be a version containing the world’s first “newspaper” album, which would be shipped in May. However, today, Radiohead made another surprising move by releasing the album one day earlier than expected. Now, finally, after waiting almost 4 years, Radiohead has a new album, making it the most anticipated album of the year already, and probably one of the most interesting and unique alternative rock albums since their 2000 album, “Kid A” (I’ve already written a review here).

The album starts with “Bloom”, and it surely does bloom. A phasing piano loop, strange electronic sounds, and a jazz-influenced drum loop start the album out, with Thom Yorke’s beautiful vocals coming into the mix, along with a very cool bass line underneath courtesy of Colin Greenwood. Also, there is a lot of scratchy, vinyl-like sounds, similar to Burial’s use of vinyl sounds along with ethereal dubstep rhythms. Later on, a string section and brass instruments come in with very beautiful chords, which could have only been composed by none other than Jonny Greenwood. Obviously, these beautiful avant-garde soundscapes are reminiscent of the intense minimalistic sounds on their “Kid A” and “Amnesiac” albums, but yet, the rhythms here are very laid-back, unlike on those albums. A beautiful start to the album.

“Morning Mr. Magpie” starts with yet another drum loop, but with the added muted guitars playing a very rhythmic and happy melody. Obviously, Thom’s vocals are stunning as usual, but the avant-garde soundscapes continue to create something very different than we’ve heard in rock music before. Suddenly, it breaks into a breaktaking melodic guitar figure and falsetto vocals before heading back into the rhythmic verse, and ending out with strange noises. There are comparisons between Radiohead’s music and the minimal music of the xx and Burial, because it sounds very similar, but altogether very different and beautiful.

“Little By Little” is one of the most rock-sounding songs on the album, but yet still out of context from today’s usual rock music, as an electronic drum rhythm takes control before heading into Phil Selway’s unique drumming grooves. The melding of alternative rock and electronica on this song is also reminiscent of some of the songs on “Hail to the Thief” or perhaps even “The National Anthem” without the intense anthemic, stadium rock sounds of that piece.

“Feral” is where you can hear the dubstep elements of Burial and James Blake. The strange electronic chords, the rollicking drum loops that here sound much more alive, Thom’s voice manipulated by a delay effect, and a very moving bassline along the very strange electronic elements. As much as Radiohead seems to be inspired by dubstep, they take their own unique spin on the genre, and create something altogether more beautiful and moving. The sounds continually switch between electronic and real instruments on this song, which continues into the later tracks.

“Lotus Flower”, the official single from the album at the moment, contains all the same elements as before, but its lyrics seem to reflect the somewhat claustrophobic mood on the album: “There’s an empty space inside my heart where the wings take root, so now I’ll set you free”. The glitchy electronic rhythms, beautiful synth pads, and electronic bass, along with Thom Yorke’s beautiful vocals and lyrics make this a great single.

“Codex” contains the sounds of piano, which seems to have a phaser effect placed upon it, along with Thom’s vocals creating eerie soundscapes and a four-to-the-floor kick drum underneath. Later on, what sounds to be a manipulated trumpet and orchestral sounds come into the mix. Overall, the song is stunningly beautiful, and as much avant-garde and experimental as it is, it is still very organic and human, which Radiohead seems to have a great knack for. The song is gapless, going straight into “Give Up The Ghost”, which contains strange vocal effects alongside the percussive taps and chords of an acoustic guitar, which gradually build up to create a stunning soundscape.

“Seperator”, the last track of the album, contains a very upbeat drum rhythm from the very beginning, along with very subtle and ambient noises, an equally upbeat bass groove, and the eerily beautiful vocals of Thom. Later, a very beautiful guitar melody comes upfront, and all the noises come together in the end as Thom says “Wake me up”. The song sounds like a very beautiful dream, and when it ends, so does the album, thus awakening us from such a beautiful dream that lasted for almost 40 minutes.

Overall, though Radiohead are known for Jonny’s insane guitar solos, very intense grooves, and Thom’s equally insane lyrics, with vocals to accompany them, “The King of Limbs” doesn’t show any of that. Rather, “The King of Limbs” is very ambient and soothing, bringing back much of their avant-garde experimentalism from their previous albums, as well as sounding like a continuation of their very beautiful song, “House of Cards”, from their 2007 album, “In Rainbows”. I’ve seen a lot of negative reviews for this album, but I love this album. It truly shows that Radiohead is capable of creating very beautiful melodies instead of the harsh rock rhythms from their first few albums, and though I do love the alternative rock sound that they are known for, I love this album equally as well. “The King of Limbs” will probably end up on the best-of list at the end of the year, and it truly deserves it. When “Kid A” and “Amnesiac” showed their experimental side, they do it again here with “The King of Limbs”, but take it to a much subtler level that is more accessible than anyone has heard experimental and alternative rock music before, and incorporates the sparse sounds of the xx and the post-dubstep rhythms of Burial and James Blake in the process. This is what “Kid A” would’ve sounded like if they weren’t so stressed during those sessions. Highly recommended listening. Expect to see this album on best-of lists at the end of the year, including my list.

Album: The King of Limbs

Artist: Radiohead

Genre: Alternative/experimental rock

Self-released in 2011

You can buy the album here for now, until the album goes worldwide in stores next month in March: http://www.thekingoflimbs.com

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