Radiohead - The King of Limbs
Self Release
8 songs (37:29)
Release year: 2011
Reviewed by Crash
Album of the month

Radiohead is one of those rare bands, one of those bands that are able to transcend classification in simple terms like “rock” or “progressive” or “electronic”. I’m tempted to just classify their genre as “music”, but I don’t think I could get away with that much pretentiousness. Simply put, Radiohead is a band that weaves in and out of various sounds and usually completely trumps any conceived notions about what could be explored in said genre. Their last album In Rainbows saw them jump back to their roots a bit. While Hail to the Thief brought back guitar and put it in the forefront, it felt like a revisit to their old sound rather than a reinvention. In Rainbows did just that. Another four years later and Radiohead announce that within days a new album will be released. A single was released on Youtube and within a week of release has gathered almost six million views. Let’s stop and think about it. This is a band that has 100% control over the creative and business aspects of their music. When was the last time that a record wasn’t leaked? It has been years. Radiohead have proven that record labels are not only unnecessary, but that it is easier to do things your own way.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Not any band could do this. Record labels work for some bands and don’t for others. Either way, Radiohead has proved that independent music doesn’t always mean a few demos. But let’s get to the music.

The King of Limbs is the name and at first listen doesn’t impress. It’s quieter, that’s for sure. The repetition is also noticeable right from the beginning, with album opener Bloom using one drumbeat for the entire song. Blips and beeps make up the rhythm section until Yorke’s famous falsetto starts to float over. It seems at first glance like pretty standard stuff. The rest of the album follows suit until its unexpected end with Separator. I put the album away for a day or two, fairly unimpressed and rather sad that one of my favorite bands would release such an exciting album. So I went and did some homework. It was a presentation on avant garde theater director Robert Wilson and his collaborations with minimalist composer Philip Glass, a musician who uses rhythms and repetition as his primary tools. I started listening to more of Glass’s music when I instantly was reminded of The King of Limbs. That’s when I got it.

This album is not simple, tame, or boring. It was just too dense for me to get in the few listens I gave it. Time to put on some nice headphones and crank it up and holy shit, this is different. What seemed like generic soundscapes ended up being complexly layered fully realized songs. This is where I would like to bring up Kid A. Yes, Kid A is the “experimental” album and an album that I love. But every song on that album is like a dozen ideas thrown at a wall and the ones you hear are the ones that stick. It isn’t perfect, but how can experimental music be perfect? It would miss the point entirely. Here, here we have something much more artistically ambitious. Each song contains a handful of ideas and does not let up until each idea has had their time and space.

The best example is the single Lotus Flower. Aside from being one of the best songs the band ever wrote, filled with amazing atmosphere and perhaps what could arguably be considered the best singing that Yorke has ever recorded, it will piss you the fuck off. Here is why.

Going to bed one night I decided to listen to the song as I fell asleep. Being with no distractions I had only the music to focus on. That’s when I noticed the clapping. Nearly every five seconds there is a clapping sound that doesn’t fit with the standard meter. I have no idea why I never noticed it before, but it infuriated me. How DARE Radiohead ruin an otherwise PERFECT song!? But I know the band is not dumb or petty enough to put it in senselessly and I think I know the reason. By putting something so incredibly distracting in such an easy to like song then I as a listener and being forced into thinking about what I am listening to. I am forced to consciously engaged and think about the music. I only get this feeling when I listen to bands like Meshuggah or composers like Philip Glass. That’s when I remembered why I love Radiohead, because they know what I want more than I do. My first instinct as a listener is to want instant gratification, but they know me better. They know that I like a good challenge.

This is easily the least accessible of Radiohead’s albums. The short length does little to help persuade more fans to my side. But there are rumors of this being part one of a two disc album. Coming from them I wouldn’t be surprised. After all, in Separator Yorke croons “If you think this is over then you’re wrong.” I can only hope so.

This review is insanely long winded and I probably am not saying as much as I would like to. But all that I can say is if you have ever loved a Radiohead album then rest assured that with a little patience this album will keep you guessing for several spins.

Killing Songs :
Bloom, Morning Mr. Magpie, Lotus Flower
Crash quoted 90 / 100
Other albums by Radiohead that we have reviewed:
Radiohead - OK Computer reviewed by Goat and quoted 93 / 100
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