Tuesday, February 22, 2011

First Impressions: The King of Limbs by Radiohead

Radiohead is one of those “love ‘em/hate ‘em” bands – which makes my feelings about them unusual in that I just like them. I do love the ambition (the very thing that gets them slagged as pretentious, art-rock geeks by those who fall into the “hate ‘em” category), and their independent approach to the music industry, but I don’t always love the results. Even when I do like them, I don’t tend to listen to them over and over, aside from OK Computer, which I’ve played more than every other Radiohead album combined.

This brings me to The King Of Limbs, released digitally Friday. Very much in the vein of Radiohead’s more electronic albums, I see this as a continuation of their last release, In Rainbows, with guitars playing a smaller role. And although I know very little about electronic/dance/DJ/club/dub music, I sense a lot of influences from these genres. There are electronic loops and effects on virtually every track. There’s also an Eastern or Arabic feeling, notably in “Bloom” with Thom Yorke’s voice bending in an Arabic way, and “Feral” with a keyboard theme that could come from Hindi pop music.

I’ve never liked a Radiohead album at first; they’re always required repeated listening, and that’s the case here. By the second listen, however, certain tracks started to grow on me (particularly “Morning, Mr. Magpie,” one of the few tracks with guitar as the main instrument, not to mention a psychedelic feel with soaring electronics and even odder than normal lyrics, and the moody piano-based ballad “Codex” that features only a subtle click of electronic percussion in the background).

By the third listen, the whole album gelled for me. It’s short (less than 40 minutes) and very coherent, without the slips into musical wanking that have marred some Radiohead albums. The opening track, “Bloom,” is a highlight with repetitive staggered snare drum and keyboard loops, and Yorke’s aforementioned wavering voice. The lyrics and melody remind me of an electronic, Eastern version of “Superunknown” by Soundgarden, believe it or not.

“Little by Little” features a classic Radiohead bass track, rising and falling unexpectedly, like waves on a beach. “Lotus Flower” has a similar bass feel to it and Yorke’s typical flowing falsetto vocals. “Give Up the Ghost” is another beautiful ballad, this time backed by a simply plucked acoustic guitar and muffled piano.

All in all, this is a beautiful album, moody and thoughtful, not “difficult” (as Radiohead has been – sometimes fairly and sometimes unfairly – accused of), accessible and yet artistically solid. Definitely gets my recommendation.

2 comments:

  1. Seems I'm unusual too as I also 'like' Radiohead and the only album I go back to is OK Computer. Intrigued enough to follow your recommendation...

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  2. It's actually continued to grow on me! In a totally different vein, check out Josh Ritter. He's one of my favorite singer-songwriters. I'm actually working on a post as to why he should be considered a great songwriter in the tradition of Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, etc.

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