Correction Appended: An earlier version of this article misspelled one instance of “Yorke.”

Radiohead

The King of Limbs
Self-released

In the aura of mystique that has surrounded Radiohead since its debut, Pablo Honey, frontman Thom Yorke dropped another abrupt surprise on delighted fans everywhere in the form of eight ethereal tracks. Announced just five days before its intended release (and four days before its actual one), The King of Limbs is an acute turn away from 2007’s In Rainbows. The total runtime is a scant 37 minutes, and the record will be released as a purported “newspaper album” on clear vinyl and with accompanying pieces of artwork later this year. In addition, Radiohead’s latest is thoroughly more abstract than anything the band has put out to date.

Those new to Radiohead might not know what to expect from the album, and could be disappointed with the result. It’s full of Yorke’s characteristic falsetto, but lacks the driving force commonly present in past hits like “Creep” and “Karma Police.” In its absence, King is unearthly yet organic, ranging from celestial guitars to actual birdsong (which sets up the dreamy “Give Up The Ghost”). Principal impressions of confusion and discouragement are plausible byproducts upon the first listen, but Radiohead has done again what it does best — it’s changed the game.

“Lotus Flower” is set over a reverberating bass line, and is the first single released from the album. Yorke’s philosophical meanderings on life and freedom are punctuated only by a surgical snare beat. The British singer unleashes lines like “ … all I want is the moon upon a stick / Just to see what it is” that will snag the listener’s attention long past the final note. The following “Codex” is a haunting piano ballad featuring the London Telefilmonic Orchestra. The track is brimming with somber reflection and the notion that innocence is worth preserving.

Though King is serene — and, at times, truly beautiful — the brevity of the record is unnerving. It is strange that a four-year break between albums could yield just eight songs. What’s more, there is a great deal of material from live shows (like “The Present Tense” and “The Daily Mail”) that was apparently cast aside. It might be rash to suggest that Radiohead will release a follow-up any time soon, but consider the last track, “Separator.” The bright and uplifting finale finds Yorke singing, “If you think this is over / Then you’re wrong” close to its conclusion. If there’s anybody that would be willing to pull such shenanigans, bet on it being Radiohead.

This record will certainly have its critics, as well as listeners that are unwilling to devote the effort necessary for full appreciation. Those looking for an immediately likable album should search elsewhere. Each listen brings with it new understanding and discovery — a line of lyrics here, a burst of guitar there — and what each person takes away from King is unique. Radiohead, time and time again, accomplishes something that is immensely difficult to achieve even just once: freshness. The record is vastly distinct from In Rainbows, and until one fully grasps the enormity of it, each run-through of The King of Limbs is an individual experience. The moment it sinks in — whether it occurs while taking a nature walk or just finishing an assignment — will seem like an epiphany of musical proportions. It isn’t old-school Thom Yorke by any means, but with such a great effort, it’s something to be grateful for.

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