The King of Limbs seems to be all about definitions, images, memories, shapes and implications. This is not a traditional Radiohead album. In fact, it's different, save for the principle participants, than just about anything else the band has done. Sure, it offers hints of the cool gasps of Amnesiac, and there's a bit of the spare undertones that decorate In Rainbows, but in The King of Limbs, there's very little put forth that tells you what to want from it. This is an album of subtlety, decorated with gentle echos and sweet piano, with just enough drums to maintain a beat. It is far from a rock album. It's far from any album. So my thoughts on the 37 minute EP dressed in LP's clothing, range pretty wildly. As an ambient statement, a piece of art, The King of Limbs is incredible. Thom Yorke sings carefully and more interestingly on this album than he has in the past, no longer relying on a combination of guttural meets falsetto. Yorke feels alive in a sort of infinite playground. His character on this album is a lost child in a lot of respects.
When it comes to diction, and you know I love me some diction, the album title speaks volumes about the music it envelopes. First, and follow me on this, "limbs" are extremities, the ends of things, the roots, the branches, the leaves, the arms and the fingers. The album is piano heavy, but comparison to other Radiohead discs, and piano requires fingers more adeptly and differently than does guitar (and this band has never employed an epic-guitar-solo-devil horn hands/oral sex gesture kind of guitarist). Also, all the songs are aesthetically thin, impressing information rather than expressing it overtly. This is not a torso album, it's a full body album. This album is about the stuff on the ends of things, the sounds at the edges. I'd even go so far as to call this a sort of Nature album (even the artwork blends tall, leafless trees as shadows in the background), a Winter album that occasionally takes place outdoors. The imagery and the feeling is important here because Yorke & Co. have given us a significant primer to these new designs. Radiohead has long ago abandoned the typical song structure. They don't give us what we expect, and that began, really with Kid A. After Ok Computer we still expected some of the powerful, more traditional rock that they had brought with them previously, but Kid A changed that. And like an adapting, growing creature, Radiohead continues to progress toward whatever endpoint asymptote they seek. Possibly complete minimalism or a sort of musical absolute zero.
Or, maybe The King of Limbs isn't that deep, despite the allusions to ghosts, spies, death, nature and distance. This could be a record to whet our appetites. It's barely long enough, at least in digital release, to qualify as a non-Weezer full-length. We don't know yet what the amazing $50 package currently on pre-sale will really include. Or, if this is it for them for 2011. That doesn't matter so much, but I've learned to import a healthy amount of conjecture with every digital album that comes out months before the real thing. Anyway, specific tracks of note include the jaunty, bounding and rubbery "Morning Mr. Magpie," the shuffling sample fest "Feral," the nature-sound heavy "Give Up the Ghost" and the vaguely jazzy closer (possibly the most beautiful song on the album) "Separator." And "Lotus Flower" for which there is this great video. This is an excellent album, and a subtle one. You have to really listen to The King of Limbs to enjoy it. And not merely as background music. This album is a project constructed of nuances, and like a Roman statue, this may appear beautiful, but unexciting at a distance, but upon careful inspection, there are details that filter through without immediate notice. Listen deeply, not just repeatedly, and you will fall in love with it.
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