Monday, March 07, 2011

Falling off a giant bird that's been carrying me

Radiohead - The King of Limbs

After a couple of weeks of listening to The King of Limbs, I'm ready to comment. Of course Radiohead is one of the best and most important bands of the contemporary era, so every new release is greeted with save-our-world fervor. Their previous album, In Rainbows, with all the zeitgeistiness surrounding its release, lived up to hype and was one of the best albums of Radiohead's career. The King of Limbs is not, but is a great set of songs. The band does not break new ground or reinvent music or save our souls--but let's face it: a band can't do those things every time they release a new record. They've done all three before; this time they settle for making some really good music.

The album opens with the tinkling of piano keys and a familiar drum beat. "Bloom" has Thom Yorke singing plaintively over slightly jazzy, slightly spacey music, with muted wailing horns and an intriguing bass line. It's an understated, mellow, but gripping little song to start the album.

Next comes one of the album's highlights, the faster drum and pluck of "Morning Mr Magpie." This song is beautifully constructed. Its layered architecture piles on and peels away to form a work of contemplative brilliance.

"Little by Little" sounds like a really good Radiohead song, and the next song, "Feral,"'sounds like a good and creepy instrumental Radiohead song.

Another highlight arrives with the excellent first single, "Lotus Flower." This one is also a bit of a creeper--the throbbing bass and light handclaps make an almost disconcerting combination, and Yorke's vocals soar to his best falsetto as he sings about loneliness and the like. And again, the layers make all the difference. The song adds unexpected blips and flourishes that subtly add up to a greatness.

"Codex" is just a beautiful piano-based vehicle for Yorke's haunting vocals. Sometimes I think he may be keening. And the horns add a delicate and quiet strength, which the low strings build on toward the end. "Codex" is a great song.

The next song begins with chirping birds, a looping sample of Yorke's voice, and a gently played acoustic guitar. "Give up the Ghost" builds to a strange climax with more background vocal samples (one sounding vaguely foghorn-like, to wonderful effect), and yet the omnipresent guitar tap rings a familiarity in our ears to ground us a bit.

And the album closes with the sublimely lovely "Separator." Simply lovely, and though it's a slow song, it has the best guitar work on the album.

It's not fair to expect so much from a Radiohead album. The King of Limbs is a great album, and will be up there on my Top 10 list for 2011. But nothing has toppled or tectonically shifted. And that's okay. For now.


At 9:17 PM, Anonymous Your Mom posited...

This whole music thing is definitely a Wanninger thing not a Stevens thing.


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