President’s Day. It’s a day when we celebrate the intellect of James A. Garfield, the girth of William Howard Taft, and the facial hair of Rutherford B. Hayes. But mostly it’s a day off from work. And so, I thought, what a perfect opportunity to review the new Radiohead album, The King of Limbs. As any reviewer worth his weight in vinyl knows, a good review takes at least a half-dozen listens. Given that TKoL was just released Friday, I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to fully digest the record. And so, I sat down Monday and listened to the full 38-minute record eight times in eight different situations in order to appreciate its full depth and breadth. My thoughts are recorded below.
7:51 AM – 8:29 AM: Breakfast in Bed
Waffles, to be specific. First impression:
For a band that routinely sells out the world’s largest arenas, Radiohead has always distinguished itself by seeking out the sounds of the pop avant-garde and incorporating them into their music (e.g. DJ Shadow’s contributions to OK Computer or Spank Rock’s remix of the Thom Yorke solo track “The Eraser”). Recently, Yorke has collaborated with L.A. hip-hop savant Flying Lotus, whose masterstroke Cosmogramma landed on our list of the top 40 albums of 2010. Listening to the frenetic, syncopated beats of album-opener “Bloom,” I can’t help but note the song is drenched in FlyLo’s futuristic thump. It makes me want to listen to Cosmogramma all over again. But not until I’ve finished listening to this record 6 or 7 more times.
Radiohead – “Bloom”
9:21 AM – 9:59 AM: Brushing teeth, showering, drying off
Yes, I have a stereo in my bathroom so that I can listen to records while I shower. Who doesn’t? I typically prefer dance music, despite the inherent risks. But enough about me.
The King of Limbs is outstanding, but it certainly does not prepare you to face the day. The record’s soul is dark and murky. If anything, the record’s spirit is an extension of “Videotape,” the haunting closer of In Rainbows, a record that otherwise presented as resigned and at peace. There is little peace to be found on The King of Limbs. You’re much more likely to find disquiet and unease, as Yorke seems to have done in this video for album centerpiece “Lotus Flower.”
10:57 AM – 11:35 AM: Playing Angry Birds
It’s my day off. Don’t judge me.
The record makes an excellent soundtrack for this simple yet emotionally abusive game. The psychic anxiety of our feathered protagonists as they struggle to reclaim their unhatched progeny is enhanced by Yorke’s wailing Johnny Greenwood’s galloping guitar lines. “Morning Mr. Magpie” underscores the immediacy of the task at hand, racing forward with punk-like energy and aiding me in negotiating a particularly challenging level (4-19, to be exact). Those swine will think twice before stealing my eggs next time.
Radiohead – “Morning Mr. Magpie”
1:15 PM – 1:53 PM: Browsing a local bookstore
It’s a weekday in February, or, to put it another way, it’s snowing in Brooklyn. It takes more than inclement weather to keep me inside on my day off, however. I decided to go to my favorite local bookseller (BookCourt in Cobble Hill) to pick up David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, a novel recently recommended by my co-editor. All while listening to The King of Limbs, of course.
My first thought on stepping out into the cold and hitting play on my iPod: I need new headphones. Radiohead’s latest is not meant to be heard through tinny earbuds. The thudding drums and gut-rattling bass present throughout the record require high-quality audio, particularly on “Feral,” the album’s most abstractly ambitious tune (and one that somehow escaped mention in the previous section). With the right equipment, that song’s low-end detonates like “a cacophony of frogs,” to quote the second line of Mitchell’s novel, which I was reading when the song came up. Ah, serendipity.
Radiohead – “Feral”
3:40-4:18 PM: Watching the last 38 minutes of a pirated copy of Black Swan
I was hoping for a Dark Side of Oz-type situation here. It turns out that, no, they don’t sync up in any meaningful way. And I still can’t figure out if Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis had sex or not. Anyway, it’s still a great record.
6:00 PM – 6:38 PM: Preparing dinner
While the front end of the record is full of frantic energy, the back end is a more muted affair. The piano ballad “Codex” is a particularly contemplative composition, perfect for preparing a white wine and caper sauce. Delicious melancholy.
Radiohead – “Codex”
8:30 PM – 9:08 PM: Drinking a Negroni
OK, I admit it: it didn’t take me 38 minutes to drink the Negroni. I had two. Suffice it to say, the record is just as good drunk as it is sober.
11:04 PM – 11:42 PM: Bedtime
Bedtime is a time for reflection, and on this night I found myself reflecting on Radiohead reviews. What exactly is the point? They are the most revered band of our generation, a band that has redefined popular music on at least two occasions and forever changed the nature of music distribution. In other words, you’ve already made up your mind. If you already love Radiohead, you’ll probably enjoy The King of Limbs; if you don’t care for them, this record won’t change your mind. It’s a lovely record that breaks little ground but has few flaws. It requires but does not demand your attention. I recommend that you download it soon and spend a little time with it. Perhaps while having breakfast in bed.
L.V. Lopez is co-editor of Frontier Psychiatrist. He lives in Brooklyn and drinks Campari. He remembers a time when we all thought Radiohead was forgettable.