So I’m going to ignore the fact that this was announced just a few days ago AND THEN was released a day before they said it would be. Let’s pretend the past week has been normal.
I just picked this up and have listened to it through two or three times, so I’m going to write about the tracks that immediately stick out on another listen. To start out, I have to say this might be a really difficult album to get into, but I promise there’s something amazing here and it’s worth giving it time to warm up to you if it doesn’t immediately.
The opening track, Bloom, is my favorite on the album. Honestly, it might be my favorite song by the band. And that’s not just the novelty of it. This dreamy sample of an off-tempo piano line fades in, before some very Amnesiesque percussion backs it up, with glittery electronic blips and bloops echoing across the track. Thom’s idiosyncratic slurs come in at just the right time, an uncanny combination between haunting and comfortable. The song fades into this sampled soundscape of ambience, with glitchey programmed drums and droning noise. In the past, Radiohead have perfected blending experimentalism with pop and rock. Here I see them ignoring the latter and just doing what they feel.
Feral is the spookiest song I’ve ever heard by Radiohead. That’s including the b-sides of Amnesiac. Which really says something. The drums are a clusterf**k of layers of various fast paced beats, reminding me of the more experimental uptempo side of trip-hop, like later material from Amon Tobin. I have absolutely no idea what Thom is saying because his vocals are drowned in trippy effects, or sampled beyond recognition. Equally frightening synths glide around the rest of the mix. If you listen to this on headphones, you’ll live in a really haunting universe for three minutes.
If there would be a single, I guess it would be Lotus Flower. It sounds like something out of Thom’s solo work, and I thought it was until it appeared on the album in its full-band form. A driving bassline, catchy vocals and quasi-minimal percussion from Phil Selway give it a more complete Radiohead feel.
Codex is the kind of song I want played at my funeral. It’s both simple and complex at the same time. The burning piano line repeats for the whole song accompanied by a lone bass drum, the kind of thing you’d hear during the credits of a movie. Give Up the Ghost continues this mood, looping a watery sample of Thom singing “don’t haunt me,” layered over a slow-thumping bass drum and very minimal duel between acoustic chords and electric melodies.
Make no mistake, this is very, very different from everything we’ve seen from this band so far in terms of coherency. Nothing really seems like a single, and there is almost no trace of the ‘rock’ side of the band. Most of the time, it’s hard to imagine a full band playing this, with hybrids of programmed and acoustic drumming, absence of guitars in favor of synths, and swirling ambient soundscapes everywhere. This seems to be the compliment to the accessibility of In Rainbows; more along the lines of Amnesiac in terms of percussion and emotion, but in a more polished and crafted sense. The songs range between plain frightening to comforting, heartwarming to heartbreaking (in the best way possible).
I admit I’m really biased in reviewing this because I always wanted Radiohead to return to the experimentalism they left behind after Kid A and Amnesiac, preferring to blend it with their rock side on Hail to the Thief, and then abandon it for, well, plain awesome music on In Rainbows. If you don’t immediately like this album, which I kind of sense might be the case for many people after a few listens, I really hope you give it time to grow. There’s something really special about this that I can’t possibly word right now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I was just as dumbstruck a year from now.
They already finished a video for Lotus Flower. Check it out below. Hope you enjoy this album as much as I do.
-Drew Bandos – DJ bandabear on Sit Back and Dream, Fridays 2-4pm