I was surprised by Radiohead’s eighth album, The King of Limbs, but not for the usual sonic reasons. The album was released a day early and only a week after being announced. The band continues to decide what it wants music to look like and doesn’t seem to care if anyone can keep up. Usually, it is Radiohead’s music that pushes the envelope, but this time the music feels familiar and relaxed. With eight tracks spanning 37 minutes, the band doesn’t even seem worried about what the conventions of a full length CD are supposed to be. Instead, they trim the fat and make sure the music fills up every second with their characteristically vivid sonic assault.
This album is spacious, groovy, percussive, otherworldly, and melodious; this is lazy-day Radiohead. If you are not used to Radiohead, you will probably have to give the music some time, even though this might be their most accessible release ever. You will find songs to get you pumped up, songs to mellow you out, and songs that will help you through one of “those” days (i.e., got dumped; screwed up a test; or got dumped, screwed up a test, and are now trying to get past the hangover).
Spend some time with these songs.
“Bloom” – The old adage about a million monkeys with typewriters coming up with Shakespeare is what this song reminds me of. It sounds like monkeys with loops and drums got together, and at some point it all comes together. When it does, Thom Yorke comes in with a voice from another world. As the song develops, the beat seems like a stuttering marching band playing in an ambient club. I know it sounds crazy, but listen to it, and tell me I am wrong.
“Morning Mr. Magpie” – Funky, hyperactive, indie rock with a sparse guitar melody. “You know you should, but you don’t” is one of those great lyrics you can use to point in any direction. Phil Selway is one of rock’s great understated drummers, and this song shows off his ability to hint at things, driving the song ahead like a truck.
“Little By Little” – This song is layers and layers of rhythm. There is Middle Eastern percussion piled up for days, coming and going under a relatively straight-forward drum beat. Crazy, backward, Beatlesesque loops are scattered around for flavor. A steady bass pulse and competing rhythm guitars push the melody through the chaos. When Yorke croons, “I’m such a tease, and you’re such a flirt,” it rides the line between sentiment and creepy, reflecting how Radiohead songs can change with your moods.
“Feral” – builds frenetic drum beats, electronic bleeps, synthesized alien choirs, and a booming bass into a driving—um—a pulsing—uh—I am not sure what it is. Feral?
“Lotus Flower” – A song I was lucky enough to see Yorke play last year at one of his solo shows. It sounded terrific with just his guitar, and sounds terrific here, with gunshot drum beats, growling bass, draped-in synth sounds and percussion, and some dreamy vocal effects. Check out the video (and funny remixes) on YouTube.
“Codex” – A subdued, gorgeous piano ballad with muted electronic beats and some beautiful string parts at the end, which give it that closing credit feel. “Jump off the end/into a clear lake/no one around” seems to be about washing off the filth of modern life.
“Give Up The Ghost” – Another song where Radiohead effortlessly meshes a beautiful acoustic guitar part, strumming slowly alongside a loop of Yorke gently singing, “don’t hurt me,” while emotional reverb washes over the main vocal line. “I think I have had enough,” he announces at one point. Not me.
“Separator” –Funky drumbeats, piano hits, synth drones, while the vocal line delays and reverbs rhythmically along. This is where Thom delivers the line all Radiohead fans point to for hope: “If you think this is over, you’re wrong.” Radiohead contemplated ending their run after “OK Computer” and I am so glad they didn’t. I will continue to let them know I want more by buying their music.