Sunday, February 20, 2011

Album Review: Radiohead - The King of Limbs (4/5)

Often cited as one of the most influential and consistent bands of their generation, English rock band Radiohead release their eighth album, The King of Limbs, an extension of their highly-regarded moody, electronic coated, atmospheric musical experimentation, which all began with 2000 and 2001's fan-dividing Kid A and Amnesiac, which saw the band indulge into more experimental and unconventional approaches to rock, channelling heavy electronic, eccentric and outlandish influences. However reigning in the atypical was In Rainbows, their last album which saw the band take Kid A's experimentalism and The Bends' songcraft to assemble a could be described as a sonically aspiring set.

The King of Limbs, like many of their previous records takes a few spins before it settles in and comparing it to albums before; Its ambient, electronic-flourished take on rock definitely re-calls that of Kid A but maybe not as extreme and injecting a slightly more human edge. It's not as varied as In Rainbows nor does it showcase the enchanting but disquieting unfamiliarity of Amnesiac. It sounds like a neither here or there, mild mix electronic-assisted atmospheric compositions. But a disappointment? This is not.

At only 37 minutes long, it's an appropriately sturdy set. I love the layered musical progression that kicks off opening track “Bloom,” beginning with monopolizing piano keys that dissolve into the oncoming barrage of heavy afro-centric drum beats and soft electronic bass and pulsing. Ghost-like vocal harmonising in the background and piercing strings brew up the haunt for the song's instrumentally climatic second-half to which is played out with reserved guitar chords.

“Morning Mr Magpie” is quite restraint in its production—fiddling electronic guitar chords in the foreground, while the prominent hi-hats stapled to the backdrop—harrowing soundscapes emerge in its middle-section, however I can't help but expect an abrupt change in sound, “2+2=5” style. “Little By Little” is instant, introducing its array of instrumentation straight away—prominent drum lines, tongue-clicking effects with guitaric and harmonic undertones. Thom Yorke's vocal is distinctively high-pitched, which serves the song well.

They beats get heavier on “Feral” with bursts of soundscapes that match the haunting inaudible processed and reversed vocal that accompanies. It's a bit like “Kid A” but not as provoking and a little underwhelming similarly the hypnotic lead single “Lotus Flower” weighs in pretty hard on the beats too, but it's better, utilizing Yorke's more distinct vocal.

My favourite track on the album and a clear highlight is “Codex,” a gorgeous piano-laced ballad, stripped of the atmospherics and electronic beats to an emotive blend of piano and vocal. It's bird-chirping play-out merges into “Give Up the Ghost,” another striking ambient ballad—subtle acoustic guitar and raw echoic vocal with haunting undertones. It reminds me of “How to Disappear Completely.”

Closing the album is the downbeat “Separator,” which brings back the subtle beats and the hush-hush layer of soundscape, which progressively gets more spacey and discernible towards the end. I wish I could have provided a deeper insight into their lyrics, but I'll be the first to admit, along with most of their songs, I have no idea what they're talking about.

The King of Limbs, is a fine album—capitalizing on solidarity and confident compositions. If anything, this album has left me a little baffled. Within the world of the different sounds Radiohead have capitalized on—from conventional rock, avant-guard electronic-studded experimentalism and the blending of the two, I'm not sure where it fits. Although it slightly re-calls it, it's not the outlandish experimental electronic/rock of Kid A or Amnesiac, nor does it exhibit the striking, emotion-provoking warp of In Rainbows, it's definitely not the conventional rock of The Bends and it's not necessarily a new sound either. But then you could argue who cares if this is not a soul-searching, ground-breaking piece drenched with depth—haven't they done that a hundred times before? Can't this just a be a decent Radiohead album with a handful of decent tracks? Which is exactly what this is.

Best: Codex, Give Up the Ghost, Bloom, Morning Mr Magpie, Lotus Flower

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