The King of Limbs

Hello all!
Here it is, the eighth record, finally. You might find it odd with me talking about the album about a month after its release. I do too. But I remember when it came out, I had decided to hold on to listening to it for a long time before beginning to put it in words. Also, the internet at Uni. -_-
It’s a Radiohead album, so, obviously, I can’t review or judge it. But i’ve lots to say!
The King of Limbs — Radiohead

For those who don’t know what Radiohead is, and who feel really lazy to open another tab and check wikipedia, here’s a quick intro: Radiohead is a five-piece music(yes, music. That’s it, no particular genre. Alternate rock if you wish) consisting of Thom(vocals/guitar/piano/drums), Jonny(guitar/piano/drums/sampling/many other instruments), Colin(bass/synth), Ed(guitar/drum machine/backing vocals) and Phil(drums/percussion).
Although they started off with Emo grunge in the beginning with the singer whining over distorted riffs and feedback, they slowly graduated into atmospheric rock, then artistic rock and then into the cold land that’s now called the Radiohead territory where no one else can survive.
The third album OK Computer IS considered to be the best album in the last 25 years. The 2007 album In Rainbows had one of its songs up for Grammys. Though I personally detest the grammy, it’s good to see one’s fave band going as far as up there. 😀
With In Rainbows, it was said by everyone that Radiohead had perfected in music. They had made a cohesive album with a wide range of experimentation which was, then again, accessible. Even a common man not much into music would appreciate a couple of songs in the album. That’s the kind of music they has made. I remember talking to my friend about this two years ago. He had put the question: “Radiohead has succeeded in doing what they set off to do with Kid A. Now what? How will the next album be?”
The question dazed me for quite a while until the band released two singles over the period of last two years. One was a tribute song to Harry Patch, a WW1 survivor. It was vocals and strings, subtle and soothing, yet powerful. They then came out with a five minute track called These are my twisted words which had a cold feel to it. On first listen, it’s hard to believe that it’s a guitar driven song. Upon later discussions with friends and the online Radiohead guitar cover guru, Warren Lain, I realized that there was so much more to it. I don’t exactly remember the term he mentioned, but it had something to do with each member playing with different counts at the same time. While drummer played at counts of four, the guitarist played at counts of five!
All along the band tried letting go of the traditional rock setting and bring in new instruments like the french Ondes Martenot, the german Glockenspiel, french horn, electric piano connected to an effects pedal, or just everyday objects such as a portable television. But after mastering on that front with In Rainbows, they came back to the roots of their original music, assuming their usual positions again, but working on new stuff. Guitar, bass, drums and vocals. Yet different.
So it was around this time that i began visiting the Radiohead wikipedia page and started exploring their past inspirations like Joy Division, DJ Shadow, Bjork and others. It gave me a larger picture of the global music scene and a clear view of the Radiohead’s Radiohead (adjective intended.)
Later I got into college got around to living here, visiting Dead Air Space every once in a while and checking the songs that Thom suggested, working on my own guitar playing with help of many talented Youtube guitarists who interpreted very well crafted music and also tried figuring out the artists intentions on making such compositions.
Days(months, actually) passed and it was the fourteenth of February. The day when most people spend time with their loved ones. I chose to do it differently. Ok, at this point i would like tell you that i’m single and currently love it that way. But as weird as that may sound, on that evening, i was among a dozen(meaning, very few) boys lazing around in the hostel while most of the fellas were out charming their ladies.
So I switched my iPod on and started going to the usual places, Twitter, Musicovery, Facebook, UltimateGuitar and so on, when I remember stumbling upon “Radiohead: “Thank you for waiting.”
Quickly, new tab. w w w . r a d i o h e a d . c o m / d e a d a i r s p a c e /. enter.
And there it was, a three limbed creature in black and white, with it’s giant eye, thanking everyone gaping at it.
Radiohead had announced that their next record will be out on 19th February, and it will be called The King of Limbs.
I don’t know if the rest of that week felt long or not. But it was upbeat and i went back to listening to Radiohead tracks in all possible orders. Albums back to back, all openers back to back, all piano songs back to back and so on. I also came back to covering paranoid android on guitar, something that I hadn’t done in months. It was on the 18th evening when I received a text while having cold coffee in the canteen:
King of limbs released officially by radiohead 24 hours before its previously announced date. released a single video titled lotus flower with thom yorke dancing. the track resembles amnesiac in many ways. downloading the album now.

That evening, little by little by hook or by crook, I got the album. My first listen didn’t exactly shock me, but I was surprised.
The opening track, Bloom was a difficult opener. Starting with a cold powerful piano, and then colliding into techno drumbeats accompanied by the traditional drums was confusing. And then a laid back vocal talking about i don’t know what. Upon subsequent listens and a look at the lyrics, i found many references to Joy Division. The song, speaking about the tranquility and yet the frenzy nature of the oceans, comparing it to the inner parts of human mind, by itself appeared to be a lyrical sequel to The Pyramid Song from Amnesiac, which was about angels in the river.
Morning MrMagpie was good. It reminded me of the 80s tracks by Siouxie+The banshees. The drum beats were new and interesting, but the drum sound was minimalist and closed, giving a claustrophobic feel as opposed to the spacey atmospheres adopted by the band in their earlier works involving lots of background sounds and effects. This style extended to most of the songs in the album. It refered to many things in the modern world. One of the things i could directly relate to was photography. No matter how much revolution digital photography has brought to this world, to a common man, a digital point-and-shoot device stores numerous photos and thus brings down the importance. Also, it’s hard to cherish wonderful moments stacked away, when you have copious amounts of it, most of them being absurd and suggesting otherwise. I do not know it that was intended by the band, but since i’ve been into photos and cameras for a while this quickly came to mind. It’s another thing that the bassist of the band is a professional photographer.
Little by Little was like a western style song at first listen. A car going at full speed in the desert, driving towards its doom. My brother suggested that it sounded rather lonely and claustrophobic to him. And guess what, upon a look at the lyrics, he was right! 🙂
The lines “The dark cell/the pit of my soul” suggested something analogous to a writer’s block. Something that i have been going through, and hence could easily relate to. But that apart, I love the song for it’s interesting structure, the dancing style beats and Jonny’s guitar work. The way his fingers seemed to have brushed across the strings suggest his musical prowess and maturity. From abusing his guitar and sustaining repetitive strain injuries in the past, he has come down to playing minimalist, yet distinctly ringing guitar solos that stay in the listener’s head for a long time. xD xD
Great have fun. already on a second listen and must say they have really done it again.

Feral was a different territory altogether. It was like a hidden rocky cave in the icy land of Radiohead, with flame torches and eerie carving on the wall. The repetitive drum beats and resonant ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-taa synth was cold and warm at the same time. Then the heavy drums dissolving into barely audible beats, with a fuzzy bassline taking control, while having randomly sampled vocals is yet another experiment. A successful one at that. Like an audio version of 2001:A Space Odyssey where you see colourful lights moving past your face at high speed and get amazed at it while you still have the desolate feeling somewhere inside.
Feral runs into the subsequent song called Lotus Flower. It was released as a single video on the band’s blog along with links to download the album. I first checked the video since I was inquisitive about Thom dancing. Yes, I’ve scene him bobbing up and down going crazy while singing songs in the basement and other webcasts and that feature the band jamming.
The video of Lotus Flower is an awesomeness by itself. If there was anything to top the music with, it’s dance. It was the first time a Radiohead track was danced to. But then again, the dance was just as eccentric, stylish, beautiful and symbolic as the music. Sure, Thom has a weird body language, one lopsided eye and funny epressions while singing, but they all came together in this little convergence of a video. The dance symbolized many things beginning from trees, nature and it’s importance (something that Thom has always been standing for), the frenzy fast moving world with it’s pros and cons, the acknowledgement of a greater power that governs us, and at the end, a dance move that acutally pays respect to fans. Masterpiece to accompany a masterpiece.
Here’s the link to the music video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfOa1a8hYP8
And here’s a guide to understand the symbology in the dance: http://radioheadthekingoflimbs.com/thom-yorke-dance-guide/
Now, talking about the song, Thom had come up with this song about a year ago during his solo gigs, and gigs with RHCP’s Flea at LA and other places. He had first played Lotus Flower at the Echoplex in LA. A couple of days later, Warren Lain on youtube came up with it’s cover and a tutorial. I sort of ignored expecting it to later be a part of yet another Thom Yorke solo album. Something that i didn’t really like that much. But it was in King of Limbs! With a complete shift from the solo version. Although it still sounded like a Thom Yorke song through and through, every subtle piece of sound and music showed the band members contribution directly or indirectly.
The full band version was mostly bass and drum driven with almost inaudible atmospheric guitar sounds and synth bits here and there. There was also Thom himself clapping at odd time signatures providing another layer to the song. It had lots of references to the forests, but also the fairy tale feel to it. They were seen in the lines “‘Cause all I want is the moon upon a stick/I dance around a pit/The darkness is beneath.” Later, Stanley Donwood, the album artist for most Radiohead albums, explained that although the album has a lot to do with forests, trees and the thousand year old oak; its namesake, it also had to do with the fairy tale world. Most of the fairy tales in that region had characters spending a large amount of time lost in the forest and eventually seeing the beauty there, as in Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel & Gretel and others..
Lines like “I will shape myself into your pocket/Invisible/Do what you want” had me thinking about the modern day gadgets that reduce in size with every passing day, continue to amuse people but never succeed in helping mankind in any substantial way. It only makes one’s life harder. With the advent of PDA mobiles, Blackberrys, Tablet PCs, Netbooks, people bring their work home and tend to screw their work-life balance eventually gaining no satisfaction on any front. No matter how many people they managed in the office, no matter how many people from different countries they got to meet, no matter how many different places they visited (on official trips), no matter how much they earned for their family, no matter how much they apologized to friends and others for not being there when needed, they eventually die alone.

I am liking little by little a lot. upon first listen however codex, feral, lotus flower and separator were my faves. i think it will take one or two days of listening to familiarize with all aspects of the album and giving verdict on it.

Codex was a paradigm shift from the style of the album seen so far. It was a massive slow down with processed piano strokes and mild icy beats giving an impression of cold music like the Kid A tracks, but also giving you the feel of being tightly wrapped in a coat so that you don’t get frozen. Thom’s falsetto backed by brass instruments brought in a sense of security and reassurance after a dark song about the bad bad beautiful world. It was a unique ballad unlike any other. They had tried to achieve a slowdown in earlier albums, such as in The Tourist(from OK Computer) and Nude(from In Rainbows), but this was unlike either. The former was more patchy and explicitly said “Slow down” in its lyrics. Nude had more emotional lyrics more to do with love life and chronic depression. Codex was rather positive in its outlook, like a father forgiving and reassuring his son who committed the biggest blunder of his life. “No one gets hurt/You’ve done nothing wrong” comforts every listener, puts him in relaxation mode and makes him feel good about himself. It also indicates rays of hope in future and the goodness that lies ahead, in the lines “Jump off the end/The water is clear and innocent”
I’ve had various perceptions of this song each time. The first time, it appeared to me as a track with strong pink floyd influence since it sounded like a processed piano cover of Speak to me/Breathe in a more Greatest gig in the sky style. But I was wrong. With the lyrics, the tranquil brass solo and piano in the background, it’s as refreshing as Stairway to Heaven.
And then the song fades out…like a portal opening into some other place…suddenly chirping of birds bursts in…rustling of leaves, the wind, birds flapping their wings, and a thud every now and then, and…
Give up the ghost.
Thom had first played an acoustic version in a low-key solo gig at cambridge for his friend’s political needs. The song had great response. I remember coming across comments on youtube saying that he/she hoped this song was just as haunting and raw when it appears on the future records. It was so. The full band version was hardly modified, except for the processing of “Don’t Haunt me/Don’t hurt me” part, and some very melodic bassline that accompanies a very non-conventional afro-dub crosses folk style of guitar playing and vocals.
This is both lyrically, and musically, a continuation of Codex. The lines “Gather up the pitiful/In your arms” signifies that charity, benovalence and such qualities are what make up for the wrong we’ve done, knowingly or unkowingly in our past. It’s to clean up the mess we’ve created, and turn to nature for cleansing. “I think we should give up the ghost”

There are so many layers and subtleties which reveal themselves upon multiple listens and this is what i have loved most abt them since the bends.
“Wake me up, wake me up”
Separator provides a very different finish for the album. My favourite Radiohead finisher so far has been Street Spirit(Fade Out.) Though all album ends tend speak philosophy, Radiohead had chosen the dark truth all along, talking about harsh realities, mostly to do with death, or becoming a kid again, trying to view problems in a more simplified way than growing up and complicating it. But Separator had a completely different take. Starting of with “It’s like I’m falling out of bed/From a long weary dream” it gives a sense of just having woken up from the dream of problems. But as the song progresses on a more relaxed note with no deep emotions, it gets into philosophy indicating that the whole world is an illusion of senses, analogous to the way one believes what he sees in his dream until he wakes up. But then again, regardless of how pleasurable or harsh it was, he wishes to be there again, in the dream, until it finally dissolves out of his mind as he pursues other activities.
Life is all the same again.
**

His new hairstyle is weird but my favourite part of the video when he puts the hat back grips it and he along with the entire song goes into a feverish state.

The album lasts for less than 40 minutes and none of the songs bore the listener out. Upon first listen, it doesn’t even sound special or multi-layered. Perhaps that’s the way it’s meant to be. Beneath all the layers and experiments, Radiohead has believed in making accessible music. Something very difficult to do. Every album of theirs has attempted in achieving the perfect balance between accessibility and experimentation.
But that’s just not it. In the weeks preceding the release, there were articles on the band’s blog about how powerful social networking sites have been. But what they had in mind, was seen only when the album was out. Radiohead generated the maximum publicity with hardly any input by announcing the album release just about a week before. Then by preponing it further by a day, they made sure they would have the entire internet going on about them. And then the album was out. Twitter crashed. Blogs and social feeds broke out into a frenzy. People shared the rare experience of listening to an album track by track and sharing their first impressions with each other. Ansh and me being amongst them. I believe for most of us who experienced such a thing on twitter, it was an experience to remember and Radiohead has once again proven themselves why their thoughts and ideas about music and its propogation/distribution is light years ahead of everyone else.
Ah, long session. Life’s pretty good here. Working on my play and a short film. Music and anime have kept me going. Glad that The Suburbs won the Grammy. They stand right behind Radiohead for me now. 🙂
Heard about the Oscars. Was rooting for Social Network. Surprised that it got one for the music! :O
Anyway, talk about more later.
Till my next blog,
Sumanth.
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One Comment

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  1. This has got to be the most detailed thing about Radiohead I've read so far, bro!Actually, It took me a while to understand the lyrics. I still dont understand them :S Your nutshell explanation was good :DLove the album. Imo this album has a whole different feel to it :DAgain….true Radiohead fan 😀

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