Radiohead have the unenviable task of trying to live up to the insurmountable hype and otherworldly expectations that come with releasing some of the greatest albums of the last 20 years. With the release of their latest sonic exploration, King of Limbs, they have done just that.
The ominous, twinkling backdrop of the album opener, “Bloom,” is a reminder of the ambient glory of Amnesiac. It is a mood that pervades the whole album with its deep trance groove and surprising lack of big guitar moments. The King of Limbs does not instantly grab you like Radiohead albums of the past; there is no track that leaps out at first listen and grabs you by the balls and screams, “listen to me!” No, this time around it is a slow burn, smoldering and simmering, each listen revealing new complexities.
Much like the twin power of Kid A and Amnesiac, the album is painted on a broad sonic canvas, carving huge swashes of sound through the album’s ever-undulating landscape. Eschewing straightforward song structures, The King of Limb’s instead seems to sway and move to a muse whom only Radiohead can hear; the beauty is, at times, in unnatural sounds that haven’t felt possible before. They return to earth for the sweetly simple “Little by Little,” with its clattering percussion and funky guitar line, and on “Morning Mr. Magpie,” they offer a straightforward indictment of those who have illegally downloaded Radiohead albums before they are released with the scathing line, “You got some nerve, coming here, You stole it all, give it back.”
But it is when Radiohead un-tether themselves from their earthbound shackles and explore the farthest reaches of outer space that their genius shines brightest. The abrasive “Feral” with its stuttering groove and descending notes radiate from the deepest, darkest, regions of your mind, turning Thom Yorke’s voice into an almost unrecognizable, reverb-soaked wail. It finds the band shattering every idea of how to make music, instead wiping the slate clean and setting a new table for all to sit.
The King of Limbs is a much deeper, personal, and intimate experience than anything Radiohead has released. It is the sound of a band at the top of its powers, shaking off the warm comfort of all they have done before. It’s a scary proposition to continually change your view, never settle for just one horizon, and head blindly into the unknown. But with Radiohead, it’s a journey you know will always end with a multitude of glorious sunrises.
The King of Limbs is out now on TBD.