It’s almost hard to comprehend that something as momentous (in indie-rock circles) as one of our bands winning the Grammy for Album of the Year turned out to be the second biggest news story of the week. Leave it to Radiohead to rain on Arcade Fire’s parade by sneak-releasing their second straight album and taking the top story on most sites. Win Butler probably wasn’t even in bed yet when news came Monday morning of The King of Limbs, and most of us wound up spending the past 5 days in severe anticipation for Radiohead’s 8th proper studio album instead of trolling the internet to see what uninformed dingbat celebrities out there had never heard of the Montreal band before Sunday night. Well, alright, I did that too.
Anyway, The King of Limbs. Of course it’s too early to make any judgments on the album. I’m listening now for the third time since getting home from work earlier this afternoon and so far so very good. Typically, it’s unlike anything we’ve yet heard from the band, though there are certainly reference points from throughout their career. Well, maybe not throughout, but rather there are identifiable elements at work probably from Amnesiac up through In Rainbows, Thom Yorke’s electronic-based solo stuff included. None of these songs explode out at you as clear stand outs and there aren’t any true guitar rock moments for those of you hoping for that Radiohead to make a comeback. Instead the band conjures a sense of dread and claustrophobia through eerie noise effects, Phil Selway’s skittering jazz-style drumming, and Yorke’s elastic vocals. There’s a sustained mood over the 8 songs that makes The King of Limbs feel like a well planned out collection of songs – an album in every sense – that’s worthy of being listened to from top to bottom.
What’s also apparent early in the “getting to know you” phase is the way the band has incorporated some interesting influences into the mix here. People are already mentioning the dub/step feel, especially over the album’s first half, which culminates on “Feral” – an ominous, glitchy track that’s reminiscent of some of the dub coming out of England these days – Burial’s Untrue and James Blake’s 2010 EPs to be exact. Like they did with the ambient/Brian Eno influence on Kid A, Radiohead make it their own. Throughout TKoL the band maintains their instrumentally fluid approach that was all over In Rainbows – I mean they sound like they’re just bringing out the jam on this record. It isn’t until the album’s back half where the band starts focusing on arrangements that are more traditional sounding, such as the death march piano/strings mix of “Codex” or the apparitional acoustic ballad “Give Up the Ghost”. Yeah, they’re still pretty good at that too.
My initial thoughts are that The King of Limbs is going to be a grower for people in the same way that Amnesiac took a little warming up to. The arrangements are complex but without much in the way of striking melodies or songs that jump out as potential singles (a la “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” from In Rainbows). Don’t get me wrong, it’s more than just a satisfying listen despite its relative brevity compared to other Radiohead albums. In fact it seems like album closer “Separator” may hint that more new Radiohead music in 2011 isn’t such an improbability, as Yorke sings over and over “if you think this is over then you’re wrong”. We’ll see. You can buy the album here and get an immediate download, or pre-order the self-described “newspaper” version and get the download immediately as well. You can stream the album here if you’re ahving problems with the official site, as some have said. Check out the video for “Lotus Flower” below, and of course feel free to share your first thoughts in the comments: