Radiohead keeps songs simple

Feb. 18, 2011 saw the release of Radiohead’s latest album The King of Limbs. A digression from the band’s previous work, this album provides stark atonal sounds laced with minimalistic percussion rhythms.

The album starts out with “Bloom.” It’s a sparse, minimalistic song that relies on a repeating drum pattern and Theremin-esque sounds. These sounds are sprinkled with brief vocals that help guide along what is generally a slow, contemplative piece. The song runs a bit too long and, unfortunately, relies too much on the same repeating motifs.

“Morning Mr. Magpie” follows “Bloom.” More ethereal and fast-paced, this song is driven by pulsing, rhythmic baselines. The song, like it’s predecessor, is still bare-boned, but the faster pace and almost foreign feel give it a much stronger kick. A great song for thinking, “Morning Mr. Magpie” is surrealism meets minimalism.

Next on the list is “Little by Little” which follows the album trend of generally increasing the energy and tempo of each successive song. Built upon the repeating, light sounds of a drum machine, the song is much more reminiscent of Radiohead’s previous work. Interspersed with eerie, airy vocals, this song has a much more classic feel and is an improvement from the previous two songs in terms of momentum.

“Feral” is the next piece. Heavily emphasizing rhythms, the song relies substantially less on melody and more on sweeping drumbeats. The only melodies placed on top of the beats are haunting, ghostly sounds created by synthesizers and the human voice.  The eerie, frenetic feel of this song continues to convey the abstract nature of this album.

The next song, “Lotus Flower,” is again very limited and constrained in its sounds. The vast majority of this song is again a complex drumbeat with occasional electronic harmonies as accompaniment. The song carries a strong urban feel and has a tone steeped in modernity.

Changing the atmosphere is the following song, “Codex.” Replacing drums for softer piano music, the song intermingles this with whispery wind instruments to create a nostalgic, almost mournful atmosphere. The lyrics here are sung normally and are mostly a return to Radiohead’s more traditional songs. Fans who were displeased with the experimental qualities of this album can find much more standard fare to enjoy in this song.

The penultimate song, “Give Up The Ghost,” is an even more traditional song. Relying on acoustic guitars and old bongos instead of drum machines, this song contrasts the urban feel of its predecessors for a more harmonic, natural tone. The choral vocals echo harmoniously with the acoustic sounds and end in slow, soothing whispers.

However, the final song, “Separator,” returns to where the album started: more drum machines. While not bad, the drumbeats will wear on anyone who listens to this album from beginning to end. Overall, this last song manages to combine some of the natural vocals of the later songs with the urban drum machines of the beginning songs.

This album’s experimental nature is not for everyone. The record is short, and the acoustic, mainstream songs in this album are far and few. Anyone who is interested in contemplative, innovative music that embraces quality over sheer complexity or tradition will greatly enjoy Radiohead’s latest foray into innovative music.

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