Radiohead’s The King of Limbs.

February 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

At once illusory and haunting, the artwork for The King of Limbs outlines two crazed, neon figures, whose limbs droop downward into the shattered roots of trees—trees growing within and behind them, limbs reaching upward into a small semblance of light.  It is a striking image, and provides the perfect backdrop for Radiohead’s newest release.

What separates this album from the band’s previous records is its near-constant motion.  When Yorke’s voice is not floating atop a river of layered electronic textures and driving beats, it is propelled by minimalistic instrumental motifs that are represented in some form or another on every one of the album’s eight tracks.  This constancy is broken in tracks six and seven, which allow the listener to breathe for the first time, but even still there remains a bass drum pulse that both sustains the album’s vitality and anticipates a return to its initial enthusiasm in track eight.  Yet, despite its ceaseless energy, it remains contained and understated, a sort of resignation due to constant torment, where one becomes forced to view the world through detached observations.  This does not mean, however, that the album becomes stagnant or uninteresting—on the contrary, the controlled nature of the songs proves more and more interesting with each listen-through, as new layers are unpeeled to reveal a wealth of experience and emotional breadth.  This maturity is to be expected of a band with eight studio releases under its belt, five of which were nominated for Grammy awards.  However, with the release of The King of Limbs, as with each release before it, expectations are subverted, and new discoveries are made.

This is not an album of grand anthems, nor is it particularly groundbreaking, lacking the progressivity that gave albums like Kid A or Amnesiac their impact.  In its brief thirty-seven minutes—their shortest album to date—there are throwbacks to nearly every one of their prior albums (and even to Yorke’s solo work in The Eraser, with its glitchy electronics and fragile vocals), such as “Codex,” which seems to be a calmer and less direct “Pyramid Song,” as well as many subtle melodic and textural references to Kid A.  This is not to say that the record lacks originality, but rather it is a culmination of over twenty-five years of Radiohead material, and simply takes things in a new direction.  Because it is neither a lazy recycling of material, nor a listless regurgitation of overused formulas, fans will be satisfied with the result.  Dark yet playful, submissive yet unrelenting, it proves a fresh reimagining of Radiohead’s sound and a solid body of work in its own right.  Though not their strongest effort, The King of Limbs is worth its weight in gold—or should we say, in downloads.

By Kelsey Upward, Staff Music Writer.


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