Sunday, February 20, 2011

Liveblogging the First Listen: Radiohead - The King of Limbs

So I'm getting ready to pop on my headphones and dive into The King of Limbs, which, if you are somehow reading my blog from under a rock, is the name of the new Radiohead album that was announced on Monday, scheduled for release today, and released yesterday.

I'm a tad nervous about this. First listens don't always go as well as twentieth listens and I've heard good things and I've heard bad things about this album. Someone was saying, "It sounds more like Thom Yorke's solo stuff" which I feel is a rather nitpicky comment seeing as Thom Yorke's solo stuff sounds a lot like Radiohead. So thtis could go well or not so well or only ok. Those are the options.

Ok, I have the first track queued up and I am going to hit play...

Track 1: Bloom

This comes in with some plunky pianos and then some stuttering drums. I can understand the TY solo comparison. There's a bass in the background doing some nice stuff. Thom has come in and it sounds like this is going to be one of the "Thom sounds drunk" type Radiohead songs. These vocals are very haunting. I feel like it could all explode soon. There are some horns and some skittering sounds. Maybe some synths? This song sounds like it is the same pattern repeating over and over, but getting more organized with each iteration. Kind of a trip to listen to. This part kind of feels like part of the song "Kid A". Fading out...still with the skittering and the bass.

Track 2: Morning Mr. Magpie

Starts off with some dancy guitar and then another guitar to offset. Ooh this is more of a "Thom sounds like Bono" song. "you stole it all./give it back". Whoa. Breakdown into just ooohs and a beat. Now a little bass. The songs so far are definitely more sparse. That dancy guitar is so hypnotic/catchy. The vocal melody sounds a little Magical Mystery tour. Ends on a flatline of static and bird sounds.

Track 3: Little by Little

This one is starting out sounding very south of the border. Jangly. What's interesting about liveblogging like this is that I can't really pay as much attention to the lyrics. This COULD sound like a solo TY album, but I think it would get criticism for trying to sound too much like RH. I would love it if this album had a straight out rocker. Wouldn't that be a surprise? "little by little/by hook or by crook/I am such a tease and you're such a flirt"

Track 4: Feral

This one starts off reminding me kind of of "15 Step". Whoa. Kind of like if they did a mashup of "15 Step" and "Pulk/pull doors" like that kind of fast paced beat from the former with the weird box from the latter. The bass is really prominent in these songs, I'm noticing. This song would be a trip to see performed live. The bass line turns into midi to end it.

Track 5: Lotus Flower

Ok. the single. Once again catchy bass. Good steady mid tempo drums. I like how they're giving the music time to settle in before the vocals start. This is definitely more conventional singing than the othe songs so far. This is a very "Gospel Thom" type vocal. They sure do know how to craft a song, don't they. I can't wait to get more of what these songs are about, you know? I'm loving the drums in this. And the bass. It keeps coming back to the bass.

Track 6: Codex

Whoa. A vocal that almost started, but was cut off and into some very intense piano. Like "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" by Smashing Pumpkins intense. And then suddenly Thom sings sharp as a knife, "sleight of hand/jump off the end/into a clear lake/no water 'round" this song is also kind of ringing of "in the air tonight" or "nightswimming". Oh, the slightest hint of trumpets and then the slightest hint of strings. But mostly, the piano. This is absolutely a Radiohead song. No solo TY here. Ends with bird sounds. And the sound of rewinding straight into...

Track 7: Give Up the Ghost

Thom's vocals and then some crisp acoustic guitar. You can hear the hand tapping the wood of the guitar. I'm definitely enjoying the second half of this album a lot more than the first half. I just looked and was relieved that there's three more minutes of this song. I'm loving it. It's building so slowly. Like the lights are slowly coming up. Or going down. This is almost meditative or mantra-like in it's multiple repeated parts overlapping and syncopating. Into some mellow guitar and tape noodling.

Track 8: Separator

Starts with some fun drum and hi-hat stuff with a little drony synth. Echoy vocals. Lovely bass. All the parts are so crisp in this song. They are confident musicians. You can tell by how they let the music sit there for almost too long, but pick it up just in time. Like a juggler with chainsaws. Oh, is that a sitar? Or a guitar? Both? Haha. He is singing, in the last song, "if you think this is over,/you're wrong." that's actually reassuring. Thanks, Thom. Please let that mantra be the last thing on the album. Nope. I think they're going to end on some ringing and the drums.

Final First Impressions
Ok. No rockers here, but that's not a complaint. Just an observation. It's too short. That is a complaint, but it comes from a good place. I liked so much what they were doing with everything that I could have happily listened to three or four more songs with similar ideas. The bass was the winner on this album, with Thom's vocals coming in a close second. Overall, after one complete listen, I'd say this gets a 7.5/10 with the potential to get even higher upon repeated listenings.

This was fun, albeit slightly stressful and surreal :)


Erin said...

Kevin asked me recently how it's possible that we're friends given my lack of musical diversity. Sometimes I have to wonder the same thing, given that the only Radiohead song I've ever heard is that plastic watering can song on the Clueless soundtrack (if I told him that he'd probably hang his head in shame at having married me).

Allston branch said...

Great to hear the spontaneous overflow there, James! I hope you'll do a slo-mo return to this album to give us your more considered reactions!

James! said...

Erin - well, we have movies and television and a shared high school experience. Do you have tue Clueless soundtrack? Does it have that "super model" song on it? Can I get it from you?

Andersjb - I think I'll try to come back on march 19 and give an updated review. That way, I'll have time to digest it and see if there's more context to talk about. For instance, there's a rumor that this is part one of a two part project. Which would explain the whole "this is not the end" thing at the end of the album...

Tricia said...

I loved reading this. I felt like I was there listening with you. I also cracked up at that comment about Thom Yorke sounding a lot like Radiohead. Great post.