Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ll be aware that Radiohead Front man Thom Yorke released a surprise album in the afternoon of Friday entitled ‘Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes’. As with a lot of Thom Yorke releases since Radiohead’s brilliant ‘In Rainbows’ there is more focus on how this album was released over the actual music itself. This time Yorke decided to ‘cut out the middle man’ essentially by releasing to fans straight up through BitTorrent and give a middle finger to the rest of the music industry. Whether his newly found method of distributing music will work in the way he wants it to is a completely different matter all together, I’m here right now to talk about the actual music he released.
As of recent when you hear a Thom Yorke project is being released you know more or less the basics of how it is going to sound. You can expect to hear skittering drum beats, Yorke’s voice to be extremely compressed into the background, and an all together ghostly atmosphere. This is no exception as right from the first few seconds of the first track on the album, ‘Brain In A Bottle’ you can hear it’s distinctively Thom Yorke. Of course that doesn’t mean it’s exactly the same as any previous projects, it doesn’t sound like a sequel to say ‘The King Of Limbs’ or his first solo album ‘The Eraser’. It’s just Yorke hasn’t made any projects that completely change push the musical envelope recently. But you know what they say, why fix what isn’t broken?
Yorke’s voice is more compressed than ever on this album, and a long way off how it can be the forefront of his music. He sings so quietly and in the highest parts of his vocal register to the point where most the time he sounds extremely pretty. Other times it almost sounds like he’s speaking like in the song ‘Truth Ray’ where he repeats the line ‘Oh my god, Oh my god’ over and over again. The melodies are a lot more pretty on a lot of points on this album such as on the song ‘The Mother Lode’ which is a far cry from some of the cold music he sometimes puts out. But musically these songs are so atmospheric that they make the pretty vocals sound more haunted than sweet.
Though it uses a lot of the same things musically to last year’s ‘Amok’, it uses them in a way that sounds so much more delicate. The songs feel like they actually go more places than that record even if they do sound so much more fragile. Even on the song ‘There Is No Ice (For My Drink)’ a seven minute long song using the same bass line the whole way through, it feels like the atmosphere is much more masterfully crafted than anything on his Atoms For Peace project. He uses vocal samples instead of instrumental arrangements for the track as he sings both in his high and low register.
Although these songs don’t provoke much emotion as you would normally expect from Yorke’s song writing, it is a masterclass in creating an atmosphere. For now, Yorke is happy to keep experimenting in his own little electronic confinements. It feels like it’s what he wants to do, which is what he’s been doing his whole career. It’s a record that won’t win him any new fans but is a solid one to add to his fine discography, even if it does end up being remembered for the way he distributed it.