You are reading the older HTML site

Positive Feedback ISSUE 53
january/february 2011


Radiohead, King of Limbs
by Michael Mercer



Self-Released (multiple formats)

Radiohead has called their latest album: King of Limbs the "world's first newspaper record." This labeling can take on multiple forms (as the record itself is going to be released in multiple formats). This reflects the bands continuation of their forward thinking record-release style. The album is available for official download in either mp3 file formats or WAV (CD-quality) tomorrow, Saturday February 19th. The "newspaper record" will consist of (according to Radiohead's site):

1) Two clear 10-inch vinyl records in a purpose-built record sleeve.

2) A compact disc.

3) Many large sheets of artwork, 625 tiny pieces of artwork and a full-color piece of degradable plastic to hold it all together.

4) A digital download that is compatible with all good digital media players.

In addition: Anybody who purchases the full "Newspaper Record" will be entitled to the digital downloads as well. At this time the slotted release date for the more intricate packaging is May 9th, but already industry rumors abound that state the release has been pushed back. Who knows, what's important now is that if you're craving new Radiohead music you can buy the .wav files and get playing (what I'm doing while writing this actually).

This album has, thus far, done what Kid A did for me back when that groundbreaking record came out: left me seeking the necessary colorful adjectives in order to describe the magic of the album. Perhaps more important than that, the record enraptured me, and so I didn't even care to jot notes or work on a review. I simply wanted to sit back and bask in the wonderment of the music itself. If memory serves me correctly, I listened to Kid A all the way through four or five times before I jotted a single thought on paper! King of Limbs is having the same effect, but this time around (Kid A was a long time ago lets not forget) I feel obligated to share my immediate amazement with you. Now, "Newspaper Record" may apply to the formats for which the album will be delivered, but the phrase happens to capture the essence of this album more aptly than I could ever hope to in this review. The album seems, upon first listen, stripped down. The overwhelming vibrancy of In Rainbows (their previous release) is not the focus here, and the percussive elements took a second listen to be sure I didn't have two different files playing simultaneously in my computer (there seemed a bit of a timing issue, but rest assured, it's all in time, I just wasn't ready for the subtle complexities).

That's why "newspaper album" fits: On the surface King of Limbs seems all but black and white, but once you delve into the meat of the record, the nuance turns to intricately woven melodies (like stories in a paper) and engaging, yet mysterious lyrics (no surprise there, lets face it, we've come to expect that from Mr. Thom Yorke). "Bloom" kicks off the album with spider-like percussive elements, peppered with hovering synths, building into York's ethereal vocals, floating across the soundstage (acting as a sort of lyrical pilot—guiding the listener along for the ride). It's a splendid attention grabber. "MorningMrMagpie" thumps out of the gate. Its drums then take a back seat to Yorke's lyrical sway. This is the very definition of "mood music" (yet another term utterly abused by us music journalists, but hey, it fits). "Feral" sounds more drum-n-bassy, with a hardened kick and loopy drums. The vocal samples pan from one channel to the next, creating an ambient masterpiece that would make Aphex Twin proud. "Lotus Flower" the track with the video already making the rounds on YouTube (featuring Yorke in sometimes awkward, yet vulnerable dance moves and facial expression) is a track that sounds thematically similar to In Rainbows, but there is air and space all around this song, making for a perfect late night listening session. "Separator", the album's closer, punches with percussive velocity, yet weaves like a track off Future Sounds of London Dead Cities (minus Yorke's dreamy vocals, as Dead Cities had a more forward lyrical approach, more like story-telling sitting within the track).

This record is a sonic adventurist's delight, filled with strange modulations, distant, cascading vocals and percussion that changes with every track. When writing music reviews I feel it is important to focus on the art itself, but I must let you know how this record has eased the pain of a current family tragedy. I found myself lost in the music on King of Limbs. The album acted as a sonic transport to another time and place. Where is that place? I don't yet have the literary prowess to accurately describe it to you. However, isn't that what great music does: take you on a journey into another time and space, a space away from your everyday trappings? Well, Radiohead has given this listener another wondrous sonic joyride, and hopefully you'll buy a ticket as well. I highly recommend taking this trip. You may not be the same as when you left.

I've been listening to the record on the road (via my Hp laptop, JHAudio JH-13 pros & BeatsByDre Solo headphones, fed by my StyleAudio USB DAC & headphone amp through my Nordost Blue Heaven USB cable). Thus far the record sounds fantastic! Nigel Godrich is a true master of capturing nuance and air in a recording and this album is no different. The sonic backdrop was neither completely black nor white, but seemed to take on a color all its own. The midrange was lush and engrossing, while the bottom-end thumped with gestalt and accuracy—no harshness or murkiness. I'll do a follow-up once we get back to our reference system!