Radiohead has always clicked best for me on headphones, and usually not on the first listen. "Idioteque" blew me away, in the car, the first listen, on the way home from the record store. OK Computer and Hail To The Thief (let alone Pablo Honey and The Bends) never baffled me at any point. But overall, this is a band that demands repeated listens, through all manner of speaker: car, home stereo (and I mean stereo, not that tiny shelf crap from Wal-Mart) and headphones. The King of Limbs takes this requirement to new lengths.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Radiohead - Separator
The range of reactions to this surprise album, a surprise because before last Monday the only thing we knew was that Radiohead was working on something new, has run the gamut, though nobody has embraced it full on. After listening to it about a dozen times in the last three days, I think I know why: They're too busy trying to have the first review, and get page views while the hype is high, to really let this thing sink in.
The King of Limbs is an album of textures, many of them dark, and even more of them subtle. But by the third time I let the understated bottom end of the album, especially "Bloom," "Morning Mr. Magpie" and "Little By Little," because when you've got it on repeat, those tracks, which are the closest to bangers this effort comes to, the moody experimentation at work lays itself bare. These guys are pushing out, but not in the what-else-is-there-to-do that resulted in Kid A and Amnesiac. This time, it's different.
As the title implies, Radiohead is a band lost in the forest. There have to be more than eight tracks that came from the Limbs sessions. With In Rainbows, the band held back on the loud guitars. Where that album was about emotion, this is all about nuance, so there's not telling what else could come up. Thom and company want us to get lost with them - which is why I posted "Separator," the last track on the album.
Get yourself a drink and plug in some headphones. Even if The King of Limbs has already been taken off your respective music player and buried deep on your hard drive, put those cans on your ears and let "Separator" seep into your head. This is 3 a.m. come down music. It might be alt-romantic sex music. Whatever. By the fourth or fifth listen, you'll be revisiting the rest of the album to see what you've missed. "Separator" makes sense the same way as when you realize that "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" is the best track on The Bends. It's the revelation that makes every song before it that much better.
The King of Limbs is already the most underrated album of the year because in the fast, faster, fasterest times we live in, nobody is giving it a chance. Radiohead is begging you to slow down and lose yourself in an album like the Internet never happened and the long-playing album never approached its death throes. Forget the reviews and let yourself wander. It's worth it.
Buy The King of Limbs directly from Radiohead. (Worth every single penny. But you knew I'd say that.)