Top Tracks 2011: In 80 Minutes or Less

I’ve given you 2011’s best albums. Now, behold, the year’s top tracks in 80 minutes or less, as selected by a distinguished panel of me.

Image(6)

NB: For about half these artists, I would’ve chosen more than one track (esp. Fleet Foxes, Twin Sister, Dawes, Real Estate). So there are some pretty great tracks that didn’t make the cut.

"Chinatown" by Destroyer & "Stop" by Twin Sister: It’s difficult for me to separate these two out, because I love them for very similar reasons. Both feature dueling male/female vocals, romantic themes, 80’s soft-soul ambiance, and just the right touch of silliness and excess. This was the sound of 2011 in my book.  (“You can’t believe/The way the wind’s talking to the sea/I heard that someone said it before/I don’t care/I can’t walk away/I can’t walk away…”)

"Calgary" by Bon Iver: I’ve never been an admirer of Vernon’s vox, but "Calgary" comes off like the omega to Another Green World‘s alpha. It is quite possibly the most unusual song I heard last year, and also, quite possibly, the very best. Amazing video too.

"It’s Real" by Real Estate: Although I missed the wonderful nostalgic haze of Real Estate’s debut on 2011’s Days, the band’s second LP featured some flip-floppingly breezy garage-pop goodness. "It’s Real" is perhaps the best cut, a sing-along inducing nugget that makes the case for Real Estate being one of the best bands on the block.

"Bedouin Dress" by Fleet Foxes: "Innisfree" is apparently some sort of mythical paradise of Celtic lore, and after hearing Robin Pecknold’s joyful paean to the place, I’m inclined, in the words of Liz Lemon, to "want to go to there." A huge stylistic leap for an already great band, and they nail it. (“And I can’t/No I can’t get through/The borrower’s debt is the only regret of my youth…”)

"Us Against the World" by Coldplay: Chris Martin has to be one of the most under-appreciated songwriters in the world today. True, I’m sure the guy gets "appreciated" mighty well in the pounds-sterling department, but the point is the dude can write a freakin’ song. It’s that point where Martin’s voice ascends into the lyric mimetically that slays me: "If we could float away/Fly up to the surface and just start again/Lift off before trouble just erodes us in the rain…"

"Dear Avery" by The Decemberists: Ready to weep? Listen to this song, envision that bit about grabbing the child "by the knape of [the] neck", and then realize that Meloy wrote this song from the perspective of a parent sending their son off to war. Like "Tears of Rage" without the bitterness(?), this one just makes you want to sigh hallelujah. (“There are times life/Will rattle your bones and will bend your limbs/You’re still far away the boy you’ve ever been/So you bend back and shake at the frame/The frame you made/Don’t you shake alone/Please Avery, come home…”)

"Civilian" by Wye Oak: Last year I included Wye Oak’s "I Hope You Die" on my best tracks list. This year, I’ve included the driving, downtrodden rocker "Civilian", a tune that seems to owe quite a bit to Neil Young’s folk-rock period. Builds from a circular guitar figure into a storm of distorted catharsis, it’s a harrowing take on loneliness, and features great drumming. ("Perfectly able to hold my own hand/But I still can’t kiss my own neck")

"Hard Times" by Gillian Welch: It’s a simple little story of the wearing down of sincere promises, a ballad of poverty, will, and the inevitable. I wasn’t greatly impressed by Welch’s 5th released last year, but this ranks among her very best songs. Listen to those lyrics, and try not to cry. ("C’mon sweet ol’ girl/I bet the whole damn world/We’re gonna make it yet to the end of the road/Hard times ain’t gonna rule my mind…”)

"Million Dollar Bill" by Dawes: It starts with that slow-tempo drumming that instantly calls to mind The Band, Big Pink-era, fronted by Richard Manuel. It would be unfair and simply stupid to draw all things Dawes back to The Band, but with "Million Dollar Bill", they offer up something that is unmistakeably a tribute to one of their biggest influences, showing that they are every bit as capable of Robertson’s brotherhood of creating "melt-your-face" Americana. ("When it hits me that she’s gone/I think I’ll run for president/And get my face put on the million dollar bill")

"Turn A Light On" by Kathryn Calder: Of all the tracks on 2011’s Bright And Vivid, "Turn A Light On" most recalls the pleasantly noisy pastoral beauty of Calder’s 2010 debut LP. It emphasizes all of the things that have quickly made her one of my favorite new artists – the airy acoustic strum, the angelic melodies, the gracefully crafted harmonies and dissonant flourishes – and fits in perfectly with the album’s overall theme. ("Throw the table/It began to waver/The wine is cloudy too/So I watch it go/You wonder if/When it’s almost gone/So what’s the use/If you missed it all/We’ll make the rounds/But what’s the use…")

"In My Eyes" by Givers: One of the band’s more "downbeat" tracks, "In My Eyes" is nevertheless still pretty bouncy and catchy and all that. But there’s more texture here, a narrative arc more dynamic than some of the band’s more prominent tunes. The breakdown at the end is one of the band’s best moments, showcasing all of their strengths. Love those voices, love that tropical post-punk sound.

"Supercollider" by Radiohead: 2011 was the full realization of Radiohead’s independent dream. They released not only their shortest album to date, but a couple of outstanding non-LP singles as well. "Supercollider" is the best of the lot, a tense builder that recalls the bleak tunefulness of In Rainbows, the icy synthscapes of Amnesiac, and the utter brilliance of Thom Yorke’s voice.

"Ring Them Bells" by Sarah Jarosz: Oh Mercy! How did this one ever get dropped from the pile o’ Dylan classics? , Thank Jarosz for digging it up. Her voice owns it, and the bluegrass accompaniment weds it with humble joy. (“Ring them bells ye heathen from the city that dreams/Ring them bells from the sanctuaries ‘cross the valleys and streams/For they’re deep and they’re wide/And the world’s on it’s side/And time is running backwards/And so is the bride…”)

"Days Like This" by Over the Rhine: The best cut on Over The Rhine’s latest wasn’t their own tune, but a composition by Kim Taylor. It’s the kind of simple song that lets the strongest of strengths shine forth for Linford and Karin…that voice, the moody instrumentation. Perfection. ("All I wanna do is live my life honestly…")

"Tree By The River" by Iron & Wine: An optimistic and warm address to Mary Ann. "All the thorns and the roses/Beneath your window panes…" A lovely peace of nostalgia.

"One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)" by Wilco: Gorgeous, epic, blissful, unsettling, final, hopeful, sad, wow. Holy blessings what an amazing song. Quite possibly the song that Wilco was destined to make. (“Outside I look lived in/Like the bones in a shrine/How am I forgiven?/Oh, I’ll give it time…”)

Top Albums 2011: The Best

It’s been a long time coming, but hey, this is a very part time gig for me. Below are my favorite records of 2011. I think these are all pretty darn great.

        

5. Radiohead – The King of Limbs: If Radiohead is capable of making a "roots" record, then this is it. Rather than going to Nashville and getting all strummy though, Radiohead imports the outdoors mimetically. On "Bloom", the pianos unfold like flowers in a field. On "Magpie", the guitars jitter back and forth with the spasmic, angular rhythms of birds. Even "Lotus Flower", for its synthesized palette, rises pure and pristine out of the mess of the first half. All in all, The King of Limbs is meant to be heard as a whole, but there are two standalone gems here. The first, "Codex", is a mysterious masterpiece, all mood and gorgeous darkness, the washing away of all the electronic mud of the first five tracks. The second, "Give Up The Ghost", sets Yorke against singing birds, plucking out a little acoustic ditty while spectral voices beg for mercy. These are the human moments on a record otherwise given over to a strange synthesis of the electronic and the organic, where we set out in expectation of "a universal sigh." Still, one can’t forget that as a whole there is an unsettling element running through, an element reinforced all the way through the album’s final track: "If you think this is over then you’re wrong…" It’s that cover: the king of limbs bent over, coming for humanity with ghostly eyes, an apocalyptic terror anticipating a day of reckoning. TKOL is a manifesto of primal environmental vengeance. CF "God’s Grandeur"… (KEY TRACKS: "Bloom", “Lotus Flower”, "Codex", "Give Up The Ghost") (original review)

4. Kathryn Calder – Bright & Vivid: Bright & Vivid is Calder’s debut gone through the looking glass. It’s a study in contrasts through and through, from the dark album cover to the ambiguous title to the harsher musical textures featured. Thematically, where Calder dealt with the certainty of reality and personal identity on Are You My Mother?, she seems to be starting over here, searching for relevant first order questions rather than seeking answers. At one point, she questions "How many throats will be cut till I see/What is beyond the breach?" Calder’s object here, her addressee, seems disembodied, ghostly, a "silhouette" to use her own words. And her search is evident musically as well as lyrically. A typical structure on Bright & Vivid is to build from a sort of swirling ambience, to layer precisely plucked acoustic guitars on top of washes of distorted synth. Furthermore, she toys with musical distance, especially on the highlight "New Frame of Mind", giving the song three or more dimensions as it crashes forward in a final thrust – "We will run through it!" So if this record is all about a surrounding darkness, why the title Bright and Vivid? I can’t speak for Calder, but what I hear is a search for that bright and vivid thing, a place full of life and light, a presence beyond the vale of shadows and of loss. (KEY TRACKS: "Turn A Light On", "All The Things", "New Frame of Mind", "City Of Sounds") (original review)

3. Twin Sister – In Heaven: In Heaven is typical of indie pop these days: quirky and attractive female vocalist, mish-mash of a sound, ironically dance-worthy, bleepy/bloopy, and the list goes on. If it were any longer, it might be a mess. Its 10 songs though all sound like different concepts, as different as the population of a Brooklyn city block. From the spaghetti western lead guitar of "Gene Ciampi" to the pathos-laden synths of "Kimmi In A Rice Field", each tune is laced with something all its own. Lead vocalist Andrea Estella serves as the unifying force, injecting just enough sassy sweetness to put a personality on the whole thing, but the rest of the band deserves equal credit for a sort of restrained and studied hyper-creativity. The bottom line though is that, like Beach House’s masterpiece Teen Dream, this feels more like a mini-blockbuster with each additional listen. From the opening, lazy-morning vibes of "Daniel" to the far and away dream of "Eastern Green", every tune here is a nugget. I’m still puzzling over the album’s title to a degree, but the sounds are heavenly, beyond a doubt. For all of its surface silliness and bright textures, this is a deep and soulful record, a very human experience, a record that transfigures normal human emotions into something ecstatic. (KEY TRACKS: "Daniel", "Stop", "Kimmi", "Eastern Green") (original review)

2. Coldplay – Mylo Xyloto: Throughout their career, Coldplay have been dogged as copycats, sentimentalists, and purveyors of the bland. "Good music," saith their detractors, "has a harder edge, deals in stronger lyrics, doesn’t ape all those classic bands." Mention Coldplay to certain folks and you can almost hear eyes grating across hard bone, fed up immediately with the fact that the band hasn’t forsaken all for black metal or atonal experimentalism or just gotten miserable like everyone else. But do you remember when you fell in love with music? When that one song grabbed your heart and took you to another world? When you seemed to see the veils of heaven pulled back, the mysteries of reality revealed to you, the hope of all the ages flashed before your eyes, and you realized that escape might just be possible? Brother, that’s the record Coldplay have made with Mylo Xyloto. On their latest, Coldplay stand guilty of making a concept record of that period in life. Inspired largely by graffiti and The White Rose Movement (inspiring), Martin and his brothers are doing what we always hoped Radiohead and U2 would do: continuing the trajectory of their career into even grander stadium-size singalongs. Mylo Xyloto is an escapist masterpiece, pure and simple. If that’s not your cup of tea, then fine. It’s just that, in all honesty my good sir, you are missing out on something wonderful. (KEY TRACKS: "Hurts Like Heaven", "Charlie Brown", "Us Against the World", "Up in Flames") (original review)

1. Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong: "That special kind of sadness/That tragic set of charms" – with that bit of parallelism, Taylor Goldsmith encapsulates my love for this album. I’ve known of Dawes since their debut, a record that was a little too heavy on pathos for my taste. So what has changed? I can only speak to the evidence before me, but what I detect is a band that has broadened across multiple spectrums. Where North Hills was heavy on a pathetic sort of sadness, the sadness on Nothing Is Wrong is broader and more visceral. Truth be told, though, what really makes this album a classic is Goldsmith’s amazing way with a melody and lyrics. The playing is all good, don’t get me wrong, but Goldsmith just seems to flow through these tunes, channeling righteousness from The Band, Gram Parson, Jackson Browne, Adam Duritz, and Van Morrison into one entirely cohesive and tasty mix. Writing about it just sort of hurts, because the words can’t really capture the brilliance of the chorus on "Time Spent in Los Angeles" or the mountain-high bridge of "My Way Back Home" or the windows-down, high-plains harmonies of "Fire Away." There’s really nothing conceptually amazing about this record. It’s just a collection of perfect road tunes, a soundtrack for leaving it all behind. But isn’t that enough for greatness? (KEY TRACKS: "Time Spent in Los Angeles", "My Way Back Home", "Fire Away", "Million Dollar Bill") (original review)

====> Top Albums 2011: Honorable Mention
====> Top Albums 2010: The Best

Initial Reactions (2012): Punch Brothers, Sharon Van Etten, The Big Sleep

Initial Reactions are just that: my reactions to records after only a few listens (usually 2 or 3). I try to be fair, but if a record doesn’t make much of an impression on me at that point, someone’s going to need to tell me to pay closer attention if they think it deserves better. (see the sidebar for rating descriptions)

Punch Brothers – Who’s Feeling Young Now? – (B): This is the first PB record that I’ve really engaged with, and it both satisfies and leaves something to be desired. On one level, their efforts to bridge bluegrass into an experimental realm are highly admirable. It might have been “Enter Sandman” on banjos, but PB let loose with a stunning and haunting opener in “Movement and Location” and their cover of Radiohead’s “Kid A” (!) nails it. I admire their aim, without a doubt. They’ve made a good record in Who’s Feeling Young Now? However, being very familiar with Thile’s work in Nickel Creek, I know he’s capable of writing not just good but exquisite and beautiful songs. Next time around, I hope he channels some of those old songwriting chops. It’s time to take the gloves off and give us a shiner. (“Movement and Location”, “Kid A”)

Sharon Van Etten – Tramp – (B): The first artist that comes to mind with SVE is PJ Harvey; though her music is approachable and occasionally grungy/poppy, it menaces as well. Still, while she’s certainly an impressive talent, and every track on Tramp is above average, they just don’t have the “sticky” factor, the ability to lodge themselves in your imagination. At this point, my main criticism would be that Van Etten projects rather than draws. She seems to want to stick it to you, but a little mystery might help us let down our guards against all the hype. “Leonard”, with its Eastern bloc underpinnings, comes closest, but at this point I fail to see what all the fuss is about.  (“Leonard”, “I’m Wrong”)

The Big Sleep – Nature Experiments – (C+): I heard “Ace” on a sampler, and that one drew me in, but after a few more listens, I think it must have been a flash of brilliance rather than a beacon in the night. They sport a very 90’s sound, reminiscent of the midwestern melodic emo bands of that era. However, they fail to distinguish themselves by going beyond it. With the standouts I detect great ideas little explored. “1001” hints at Boards of Canada, and “Wood on the Water” might have reached to something haunting and numinous. Unfortunately though, nothing more than an average indie rock record is realized. (“1001”, “Wood on the Water”)

Initial Reactions (2011): Björk, Beach Boys, Radiohead, Eddie Vedder, The Antlers

Björk – Biophilia – (++): Well, if this isn’t a concept album then I don’t know what a concept album is. Bjork has always been very spotty for me, but I dig the "20th Century Classical" aspects of this record. Furthermore, I think it’s a great concept – all that stuff about our instinctive connections to all forms of life – see here. You’re not going to find a "Human Behavior" or an "Army of Me" or even a "Joga" here, but you are going to find a pretty experimental album well executed. Songs could have been stronger, but I think it’s a grower. Speaking of "Human Behavior", I suppose this represents Bjork coming full circle artistically – a dissertation begun with that Freshman year term paper, if you will. Think about it. ("Moon", "Crystalline", "Cosmogony", "Hollow")

Beach Boys – The Smile Sessions – (!!!!!): Why wasn’t this released in 1967? Imagine all the ways pop music might be different now. This isn’t just The Beatles flirting with orchestral arrangements as wall-of-sound filler, this is high concept brilliance from beginning to end. It’s all about those voices. Amazing harmonies – "Our Prayer" indeed – "but the Holy Spirit prays for us in groanings that cannot be expressed in words.("Heroes and Villains" and pretty much all of it)

Eddie Vedder – Ukulele Songs – (++): "Can’t Keep" is promising in a post-punk sort of way. And there’s the requisite covers, since this is an album of ukulele songs. Overall, many moments that sound like they’d get Pearl Jam radio airplay that goes beyond material written before 1996. Glory days done passed us by, but that’s OK. We’ve got the bittersweet timbre of the ukulele to provide the soundtrack as we watch the sunset. Many beautiful moments. Nothing that reaches to the acoustic transcendence of "Elderly Woman", but still many beautiful moments.

Radiohead – Tkol Rmx 1234567 – (++): Assessing a compilation of remixes is tricky. Where does the "work" of the remix artist and the "work" of the original artist split? A good example is the Illum Sphere Rmx of "Codex." Beautiful tune. Great Yorke vocal. I hated the remix until Yorke’s voice came in. Then I liked it. Two CDs worth of remixes is quite a lot to take in in one sitting. Much of it is interesting, some of it is good, and maybe a few cuts are truly memorable. Is some of it cool? Yeah. Will I ever listen to it again? Not likely. ("Little By Little (Caribou Rmx)", "Lotus Flower (Jacques Greene Rmx)", "Separator (Four Tet Rmx)"), "Give Up the Ghost (Thriller Houseghost Rmx)", "Tkol (Altrice Rmx)")

The Antlers – Burst Apart – (++): OK, when I hear this, I think of the Black Keys if they made "sad bastard music." BTW, I ain’t a fan of the Black Keys. There are some pretty moments here, and, well, I remember being really heartbroken over the last track when my cat died earlier this year. But you know, those are painful memories. Don’t really care to go back there. Musically, this is strong stuff, but the songs only seem above-average at best. Meh. It’s painful to listen to because it makes me want to cry. ("I Don’t Want Love", "French Exit", "Corsicana")

REACTION KEY

[!!!!!]: Enthusiastic. Frequent rotation. A buyer. Contender for year’s best.
[++]: Positive. Good stuff. Possible grower?
[ind]: Indifferent.. Underwhelmed. I don’t expect to come back to this one.
[—]: Negative. A real screw-up. Don’t even bother.

Quick Review (LP): Zooropa by U2

U2
Zooropa
Island; 1993

My Rating: A- (81/100)

Best Tracks: “Babyface”, “Lemon”, “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)”, “Some Days Are Better Than Others”

Post-U2 (and everything else).

NOTES

  • Man, “Zooropa” (the title track) is like the anti-“Where the Streets Have No Name.” Very Eno-esque, reminiscent of something off Another Green World, but a little groovy too. I dig it.
  • “Babyface” is one of the strangest things they’ve ever recorded. It’s also really good. Kind of like a collision of Radiohead’s “Kid A” and “The Fly” off Achtung Baby. Love the twinkly piano thing.
  • Ah, “Numb!” The one where The Edge sings in the monotone and gets his face abused. Bizarre, but strangely enjoyable. I think it’s Bono’s falsetto that makes this track, and the organ breakdown is so silly that it’s fantastic.
  • “Lemon” is wonderful. Beautiful inspiration, transcendent melody. This is one of the U2’s underrated greats. I adore the bridge. See my review of the track here.
  • Man, “Stay”…the goodness on this one just astounds me. That chorus rises to heaven.
  • “Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car” isn’t great, but it’s decent and pretty interesting. Bono calls it “industrial blues.”
  • The rhythm on “Some Days…” is some of the best work of Clayton and Mullen. Love Clayton’s bass line.
  • The atmosphere on “The First Time” is great. Another underrated gem. Kind of like a hybrid of “Mothers of the Disappeared” and “All I Want Is You.”
  • “Dirty Day” is a bit of a drag, but the overall tide of the album lifts it a few notches.
  • As much as I gotta respect Johnny Cash, I’m looking forward to hearing Bono on “The Wanderer” at some point in the not too distant future (AB deluxe perhaps?).
  • It’s amazing to think about how much this album has grown on me since its release. At the time, I though U2 had gone off the deep end, but as I listen to it now, I realize this is one of U2’s crowning achievements. It’s not quite a masterpiece, but this, like Achtung Baby, is a work of art.
  • There were apparently 20 tracks recorded during the Zooropa sessions, 10 of which are here, and 4 saw release (in re-recorded form) on Pop. I wonder what the other handful were, and if we’ll ever get to hear them? (I think “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” was one as well).

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): 29 by Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams
29
Lost Highway; 2005

My Rating: C+ (60/100)

Best Tracks: "29", "Nightbirds", "Starlite Diner"

Reelin’ in the years?

NOTES

  • The opener is an epic, roadhouse-style romper. Great guitar and vocals. Pretty great track.
  • "Nightbirds" smacks of Radiohead towards the end.
  • "Starlite Diner" is understated and gorgeous, but it might just put you to sleep.
  • "The Sadness" – not so sure this style works for Ryan. A little too dramatic, feels a bit out of place here.
  • There is a dark atmosphere to this record, similar to Love Is Hell. However, I don’t think this one quite has the same magic.
  • After the huge rock sound of the opener, things get very quiet and meditative. Honestly, tracks 2 thru 6 are lovely, but a little boring. Your going to need a good pair of speakers or headphones to get the intended effect. I’m guessing they’d sound really nice on vinyl though.
  • I think 29 would make a good vinyl listen on a quiet, rainy Saturday morning. It’s sort of lovely, but really slow and difficult to penetrate.
  • I like Adams’ concept, but I do wonder if his twenties were really this much of a downer? I mean, seriously, the guy was the toast of indie rock during that period.
  • In my humble opinion, Adams needs to stay away from Ethan Johns. That dude tones him down in all the wrong ways. I haven’t liked any of the albums they’ve done together.
  • I still haven’t really made up my mind about this one. On one hand, I find it terribly dull. On the other, I feel like it’s a grower with a little patience and attention.
  • Best album cover he’s had. It forebodeth for sure.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4/5)
Consistency (3/5)
Consequence (3.5/5)
Concept (4.5/5)
Songs (4/5)

Quick Review (LP): Follow Me Down by Sarah Jarosz

Sarah Jarosz
Follow Me Down
Sugar Hill; 2011

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: "Run Away", "Annabel Lee", "Ring Them Bells", "My Muse", "The Tourist", "Peace"

Taylor Swift, through the looking glass…

NOTES

  • Sounds a good bit like Nickel Creek’s precocious little sister.
  • Great voice – so easy on the ears, yet very dynamic.
  • "Run Away" and "Come Around" constitute an excellent opening salvo.
  • Gotta love the Poe-to-music of "Annabel Lee." Is that an original, or someone else’s bright idea?
  • Great Dylan cover. Her version may be better than his, but gotta give credit to the Jester for the amazing lyrics. ("Ring Them Bells")
  • "My Muse" has a wonderful dream like quality about it. One of the best I’ve heard this year. Gold.
  • She covered "The Tourist." It’s official: girl has DAMN good taste in music.
  • More of the profound dreaminess on "Gypsy." 
  • "Peace" is a gorgeous way to end the record. Wonderful.
  • Her voice is so lovely that I think that for Jarosz to justify not singing on a track it needs to be truly exceptional, like "Peace." However, "Old Smitty" leaves something to be desired.
  • This is a record of simple pleasures, and Jarosz may just be ready to assume that newgrass royalty mantle that Nickel Creek so oddly abandoned a few years back.
  • Solid Paste review here.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): The King of Limbs by Radiohead

Radiohead
The King of Limbs
2011

My Rating: A (86/100)

Best Tracks: "Bloom", "Lotus Flower", "Codex", "Give Up The Ghost"

It’s a Radiohead LP – Fussy and Brilliant

Well, this one was bound to be a divider, but it has won me over. Yes, I’ll admit it was lost on me after my first few listens, but then again it took me several months to breakthrough with Kid A. Maybe I’m just one of those suckers who will fall for anything, but I really dig the fact that the overriding theme of this record, for all of its electric and industrial sheen, is the natural realm, pure and simple. (I can just see Thommy boy strolling through the post-apocalyptic forest with Mr. Bluebird on his shoulder.) Sonically, Limbs is a fantastic offering. True, it’s only 8-wide, but its octave of tracks forms a delightfully dense and spectral aural mist. Side B really steals the show, kicking off with the truly brilliant "Lotus Flower", followed up by the chillingly gorgeous "Codex," which might just be a better piano ballad than "Videotape." At this point, any one who expects Radiohead to make a predictable record needs to get a clue. While I’d love to get the guitar-heavy follow-up to OK Computer that I’ve been thirsting for since 1997, I’ve also learned to love the fact that Radiohead will never make the same record twice. The King of Limbs’ payoff is anything but immediate, yet for those who are willing to listen closely for the tender, the nuanced, and the elegaic, it is without a doubt one of the most rewarding records in the band’s catalog.

RANDOM NOTES:

– Perhaps The King of Limbs is the avenging angel of death on the cover, ready to get back at mankind for the mess we’ve made of things?
– Their most mellow record for sure.
– Reminds me of the Amnesiac b-sides, esp. "Kinetic" and "Fog."
– "If you think this is over then you’re wrong…" Please let that mean a follow-up is coming soon!

ATTRIBUTES

Consistency (4.5/5) – second half def. superior to first half
Cohesion (5/5) – frantic blended brilliantly with the slow and ominous
Consequence (4.5/5) – not as big a bang as OKC, Kid A, In Rainbows, but this IS Radiohead
Concept (5/5) – thematically excellent with nature motif
Songs (4.5/5) – too few!

OTHER REVIEWS:

Pitchfork
AMG
Josh Hurst
Metacritic

Suspending Judgment: The King Of Limbs by Radiohead

Radiohead fans have learned to bear patiently with the band over the course of their career. Ever since they trampled all over the “one hit wonder” label with The Bends, they’ve been completely defying the expectations of their audience with each successive album. Their last full-length, 2007’s In Rainbows, went far beyond expectations, proving the band was anything but short on inspiration. And so, at this point, waiting three and a half years for a new collection from the world’s greatest anti-rock band doesn’t seem like much to ask. We are assured that when Radiohead gets around to releasing something new, it will be brilliant, and well worth the wait.

Only I’m not so sure about The King Of Limbs yet…

I will stick with it for a long time before I give up on it, but I’ve listened to it a good seven or eight times since it was released last Friday, and I’m not convinced it measures up. A few thoughts:

  • It sounds more like what I would have expected from Thom Yorke as a second solo record, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that it doesn’t have the “massive” feel of the other Radiohead albums. It’s certainly not a “guitar” record.
  • There isn’t a “fireworks” track on this record. Think of “The National Anthem” or “Pyramid Song” or “There There” or “Reckoner.” There’s no moment of unfathomable greatness that explodes from the speakers, blowing your mind. Perhaps The King Of Limbs is more about restraint than catharsis.
  • Eight tracks? Surely there’s more where this came from?
  • I hate to say it, but many of the tracks seem like they would have been better as b-sides. Of course, Radiohead are a great b-sides band.
  • For crying out loud, will they ever release “Follow Me Around” and “Lift” as studio recordings?

I will say that The King Of Limbs is growing on me though. I don’t think it will ever measure up to In Rainbows or Kid A in my mind, but there’s at least one track that’s undeniably brilliant (“Codex”), and a handful of other lovely moments (“Give Up The Ghost”). I’m going to suspend judgment on this one until I’ve given it the hearing that Radiohead deserve.

Listening Log: New Radiohead Saturday

Thom Yorke Jonny Greenwood LP8

New Radiohead = Live-Blogging Event

I’ll be live-blogging my first-listen experience of Radiohead‘s new LP, The King of Limbs, on Saturday. Stop by and leave your thoughts!