Pillbox

Radiohead experiments with sound

Jonny Greenwood, a guitarist in Radiohead, performs at the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam in 2006. (credit: Courtesy of Michell Zappa) Jonny Greenwood, a guitarist in Radiohead, performs at the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam in 2006. (credit: Courtesy of Michell Zappa)

Radiohead is anything but normal. In its latest release, The King of Limbs, every moment of the album’s mere 37 minutes is an exercise in the abstract. To an infrequent listener who only really took notice after the release of In Rainbows, the strong basslines, odd time signatures, and hypnotic vocals seem to come from some alien world.

The first of the eight tracks, “Bloom,” starts off with a scattered loop that makes listeners double-check to see if their CD is skipping. This brings in an uncomfortable tension, warning listeners that this journey won’t be nearly as friendly as on Radiohead’s last album.

“Morning Mr. Magpie” picks up where “Bloom” leaves off, and a slick guitar loop gives it a jazzy attitude. “Magpie” feels much less scattered than “Bloom,” and a steady rhythm can be located within the varied loops.

“Little By Little” (not an Oasis cover, despite the same name) takes advantage of a more snarly Thom Yorke, accentuated by creeping progressions in the guitars. It comes off as more of the Radiohead sound that casual fans have come to expect, more like the brooding song “Creep” the music world has come to love.

“Feral” reminds listeners that this is no longer the safe, friendly Radiohead. Drums that drift in and out pulse along with a dubstep-styled bassline that throbs underneath Yorke’s soft singing.

“Lotus Flower” was revealed at some of Yorke’s solo shows and has more steady vocals over clean drums and synths. The song is Radiohead at its most accessible — “I would slip into your groove and cut me off,” Yorke sings, drawing listeners in with deceptively simple charms “just to feed your fast ballooning head” before he decides “now I will set you free.”

“Codex” is a moody, slow ballad driven by strong piano and Yorke’s beautiful vocals, which yearn for purification: “Slide your hand, jump off the end/The water’s clear and innocent.”

“Give Up The Ghost” starts with a creepy, looping request of “Don’t worry, don’t hurt me,” harmonized by the strumming of an elegant acoustic guitar. The resignation in the song, “I think I should give up the ghost/In your arms,” sounds like a scene from a tragic love story.

“Separator” is marked by Yorke’s occasional babbling and more eccentric drum beats from Phil Selway. The twittering guitar helps suggest that Radiohead has indeed “fallen out of everyone in a dream.” The song features a warning that “if you think this is over, then you’re wrong” and concludes the album with a request: “When I ask you again/Wake me up, wake me up.”

Some bloggers have speculated that “Separator” is warning us of another batch of songs that has yet to be released. With some release-date shenanigans by the band, including convoluted announcements and a last-minute change of plans, it wouldn’t be out of the question. The album itself manages to introduce some fresh ideas, but it starts to teeter back toward a sound reminiscent of previous albums. “Lotus Flower” and “Separator” look to be the focus of the album, while more off-the-wall songs like “Feral” and even the hardcore fan-friendly song “Little By Little” will likely be overlooked.