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The King of Limbs: track-by-track review

come at me bro!

By now I hope people have had plenty of time to listen to The King of Limbs. Radiohead are a band that warrant frequent and detailed listening in order to truly decipher, rather than merely skimming the surface of their music. The first time I listened to TKOL I thought it was ‘good’. I was pretty aware that they would veer off in a left-field direction – it only takes a flick-through Thom Yorke’s Office Charts on their website to discover a host of dark, rhythmically-complex electronic influences – but as you listen to the album more and more, things fall into place and become slightly more coherent. Let’s go from the beginning:

Bloom

An abstract, looped piano line welcomes you into the album, before poly-rhythmic drums, bleeps and glitches hit you and your foot begins to tap along. Colin’s bass line is a huge part of this song, and his under-rated genius is very much apparent throughout this album. “Open your mouth wide, a universe inside” can be interpreted as entering another dimension and a new beginning, rather fitting for the beginning of the album. The song seems to melt together in the middle, as if there is the start and the end of the song and the middle section is the two moulding together to form a big middle-y mess. Except it isn’t a mess, because Radiohead wrote it. It’s coherent and wonderful; everything happens for a reason with this band and they know exactly what they are doing.

Morning Mr. Magpie

Morning Mr. Magpie has actually been in Yorke’s songbook for about ten years; I saw this video thanks to a friend who shared it. The first thing that struck me about this song is the emphasis on the hi-hats, the extreme panning and how they almost fall out of time with the kick and snare drum, resulting in a beautiful groove that is the focal point of the song. The frenetic guitar-riff works great in the centre of the stereo field and everything else works around it. A good song but in my opinion the rest of the songs on the album surpass this.

Little by Little

This song sounds like a distant cry to Amnesiac, particularly the song I Might Be Wrong which has a very similar guitar tone. Yet again, complex percussion play a part, sitting subtly in the background until you notice their absence when replaced with Yorke’s crooning vocals on the chorus. The line “I’m such a tease and you’re such a flirt” sounds lost and lonely yet is right close up in the mix of the song; Thom Yorke is singing to you and you’re supposed to be creeped out, okay? People have complained about the lack of guitars on this album and I don’t understand why. Almost every song has guitars in it, but they twist and turn hypnotically around the song, acting as layers and support which I enjoy a lot. Unfortunately, many fans are still hoping for Jonny Greenwood to crack his Digitech Whammy out and play the solo to Just for 45 minutes, but it’s just not going to happen.

Feral

I see Feral as a bit of an interlude to the album. With no vocals apart from the sporadic chopped-up samples, this song is here for that heavy sub-bass. The drums are manipulated and seemingly improvised throughout much like Yorke’s vocals on Everything In It’s Right Place, letting Colin’s bass do the talking. Again. Don’t complain about this basically being a Thom Yorke solo album.

Lotus Flower

My favourite song off of the album at the moment. I love the marshy synths that work their way in and out of the song, I love the extensive use of delay throughout(I hope reggae-heads notice the Space Echo slap-back on the snare), I love the syncopated hand-claps, I love Yorke’s dominant falsetto, oh God I just LOVE IT. Just incase you haven’t seen the video, it is below. The actual music is very simple, really, but Radiohead do what they do best and turn a few chords into something God listens to on his iPod daily.

Codex

This is a Pyramid Song style piano ballad, but perhaps slightly more minimal. Drenched in reverb with a lo-fi brass section followed by strings, this song was written to be played in the middle of a festival set-list. IMAGINE. The flow from the end of this song to the next is sublime, with bird chirps acting as the glue that fuses them together.

Give Up The Ghost

Thom played this song last year at a solo gig in Cambridge and I had an inkling it would feature on this album. Whilst Codex veers away from the electronic manipulation of the first-half of TKOL, Give Up The Ghost is a complete abandonment of that, feauturing not a lot more than a bass drum, acoustic guitar, a timid electric guitar and vocals. The looped line of “don’t haunt me” with Thom singing over it gives a sense of two sides of a story which is never resolved. This song is moving in a poignant way and is just superbly written.

Seperator

This doesn’t sound like the end of an album, and this is what I think began to spark all the theories and speculation about there being one, or even two, more releases to coincide with this one. The track is called Separator, possibly dictating a separation between two collections of material and the line “if you think this is over then you’re wrong” soars above the tantalising guitars, inter-twining vocal lines and the surface bass. This is one of very few songs that has a notable melody the listener can cling on to, and that might be why many people are choosing this as their favourite track on the record.

This album is all about the rhythm section; the drums and the bass, whereas In Rainbows incorporated the whole band equally and to immense effect. Whilst I genuinely really enjoy this record on its own, it would make a lot more sense with accompanying material. Let me know your thoughts on this album and whether you think Radiohead will be bringing out further material. It’s not like they aren’t afraid to shake up the music industry. They control it.

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James Blake – Live at Rough Trade East

Yesterday I got up early, stood in the corridor of a (busy commuter) train on the way to London and met my cousin to go and get wristbands to see James Blake play an in-store show at Rough Trade East, in celebration of his self-titled debut album being released. Rough Trade do a lot of in-store shows for bands, and for last nights show the way it worked was that you bought the album and got a wristband to go with it that gave you entry to the performance in the evening. The wristbands were on a first-come-first-served basis and so in fear of not getting one, we got there at 9:30am. This meant we had the whole day to kill.

After visiting a few of the best coffee shops in London (The Espresso Room on Great Ormond Stuff is fantastic) and picking up a few bits and pieces, it was time to get back to Rough Trade.

The gig, which was more of a brief showcase, started with album opener ‘Unluck’, greeting the fans with a simple ‘hello’. Hardly the most charismatic man of earth, James Blake is a man of few words that allows the music to take centre-stage and speak for himself. Rapidly flicking through album material, Blake isn’t scared to improvise and manipulate his live show. A lot of the chords played throughout ‘Unluck’ differed to those from the album, and ‘I Never Learnt To Share’ at points was more disjointed and free-form. Whilst this keeps his live show fresh and exciting, I wasn’t – and I’m still not – sure whether this was intentional. Blake is still a newcomer in a live environment; I know that his support slot at The Union Chapel in December was his first ever live gig with a band infront of a public audience, and I think he is using these more intimate shows to tweak and tailor his songs for a live show. Saying this, Wilhelms Scream and Limit To Your Love (video above) sounded very strong and were received with rapturous applause.

What made the night special for me was being able to put the hype surrounding James Blake into perspective whilst observing the man himself, who is completely baffled that anyone at all listens to the songs he made in his bedroom. It’s every young musicians dream and I was watching his own dream slowly coming true. Three months ago he was fairly unknown; a Goldsmiths alumni who was releasing very leftfield dubstep music on 12″. Now he is one of the biggest names in music, proven by the Radio 1 airplay, the posters advertising his new album around all the London tube stations and the sell-out crowd who witnessed last nights performance. Blake made a short speech about how he was so overwhelmed with the album’s reception, and you could tell how much it really did mean to him. After every song his face wore a grin, impossible to hide.

There were glimmers of brilliance throughout last nights performance, and a huge amount of potential yet to be utilised, but most importantly was the visible admiration James Blake holds for his listeners and fans.

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