Intriguing new Thom Yorke LP ultimately more about marketing than music

Review: The Radiohead frontman steps back into the studio for an eight-song experimental album that isn't worth much past its delivery method.

Like plenty of music makers in 2014, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke hates the corporate hold on the industry. But Yorke is actively working to change it, devising new ways to deliver music directly to listeners without any major-label meddling.

On Sept. 26, Yorke released Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, his second solo album, via the file-sharing network BitTorrent — no label, no interference and not much advance warning. Unfortunately, its means of delivery is a good bit more memorable than the music itself.

The eight-song LP begins with the kind of underwater electronic bass warble we’ve come to expect from Radiohead songs like “Idioteque” and “Backdrifts,” suggesting that he’s become dependent on it as a songwriting spark. The latest instance, “A Brain in a Bottle,” improves only once his snaky falsetto creeps in to lift the song from its murky Aphex Twin glitch envy. Yorke’s experimentation thankfully carries him further from the rock realm as he continues to build a burgeoning electronic solo portfolio.

The problem with any new Yorke material is how sharply it reveals his need for collaborators to complete his ideas. The sleepy “Truth Ray” can't move past a drab electro crawl. At six minutes, “The Mother Lode” properly swells and recedes at the crucial moments but overstays its welcome.

And then Yorke moves to the most intriguing and worthwhile portion of the album — its puzzling, charming, frustrating three-part conclusion.

Thom Yorke - A Brain In A Bottle (OFFICIAL VIDEO) from Tommaso Colella on Vimeo.

The sound collage “There Is No Ice (For My Drink)” begins it with a synthesized pingpong rhythm and chopped-up vocal samples before moving into downright ghostly territory. Still, its quirkiness doesn’t negate the pesky notion that it’s more of a studio experiment than a finished track. The melodic fragments work well enough, but not as well as similar electronic songs like Jamie xx’s “All Under One Roof Raving" and Disclosure’s “When a Fire Starts to Burn.”

Once the clamor settles, Yorke glides into “Pink Section,” a wonderful passage of atmospheric noise that’s as sweet as anything he has done on his own since The Eraser’s “Atoms for Peace.”

The closer, “Nose Grows Some,” is even sweeter. Blending Radiohead’s spacey sensibilities with Yorke’s own continued ambient dalliances, “Nose” dazzles in its nuances. An expertly arranged wallpaper of synthesized tones makes the track breathe, and the frenetic drums provide a crunchy texture. This is a song you can taste.

The ultimate disappointment with Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is how “Nose” is the album’s true starting point. After its highest peak — a vocal pivot into a quick giddy shriek — “Nose” simply recedes into itself. As soon as Yorke finds this moment, he doesn’t know where to go next, so he ends the song on a disappointing hobble.

Through a few bright flashes, Yorke again proves his worth as one of the most creative and forward-thinking musicians of his generation. But if he devoted half as much time to the music as he did its presentation, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes might have ended up essential, not a B entry on a career report card of (nearly) straight As.

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.