Sunday, 20 February 2011
first impressions of The King of Limbs
By Kore Audio at 11:06
Last week I pre-ordered the full package, vinyl+CD+artwork+download for £33, and yesterday was the day you could start getting your download, while the rest will arrive by post eventually.
It could have been £3 less choosing to get the download as MP3, but since there was no indication of how these were produced* I thought I'd pay a bit more for the bandwidth and get full-quality Wavs.
And just to give you the full picture, if you don't believe in material things you can get just the MP3 for £6 or just the Wavs for £9. Very fair.
Now before I write anything about the music...
I will also add that I am happy to pay £33 to support the band and get the luxury of vinyl sent to my home, but I wish there was an option to pay an extra £5 to remove the pretentious packaging. I have too many of these fake books or folded cardboard origami that don't fit anywhere with the rest of my music collection and that are absolutely useless at protecting the CD from anything.
We'll see, for the moment I can only comment on the download and this one comes with just the Wav files and a single 5Mb Jpeg of the cover (not even the back cover). So basically I am complaining for the excessive artwork on paper - which I haven't even seen yet, and I am complaining for not enough artwork in the download version. You may say that some people are never happy, and yes I'm one of those people.
Anyway, the record is less than 40 minutes of music across eight regular songs. No strange stuff, the shortest song is 3:13, the longest is 5:20. No self indulgence here, just plain well-crafted songs, and I have come to appreciate that. I'd rather have eight great songs than fourteen average ones.
So how great are these songs? Am I finally going to say something about the music?
I will not go in to a track-by-track critique; the point of this short review is just to give you the elements to choose whether to run and buy it or think about it some more.
I will start by saying that if you weren't a Radiohead fan before this record you will probably remain of the same opinion. Save yourself the money and keep listening to the crap you prefer.
For the rest of us, this is a very good record. There aren't obvious singles, and there isn't much in terms of guitar riffs. But within the 'classic' Radiohead sound there are very interesting new musical elements. The bass lines are fantastic (as they have always been), and underneath the almost predictable distortion, electronic, effects, I hear a very soulful quality to these arrangements. There is a fantastic groove underlying all these songs, and this is what really makes everything work; I can't say how much of that is musicianship and how much is intentional programming, but it's just excellent.
There is a quite liberal use of delays here and there which will get you to wonder if you haven't accidentally started playing two unrelated songs at the same time. Sometimes the drums get in to a positive mess clashing with delays and sequences. No worries, it will all make sense after a while.
As I go through the third play of the album from start to end I am definitely starting to 'get' the personality of each song, and I am more and more convinced this is just another great record. Certainly the first (Bloom) and last (Separator) track stand out for me, but each other has something special about it. And as I hear it a fourth time I find that pretty much every song is a gem.
I must confess I sometime wish that the singing was a little (just a little) less... er, dare I say it, whiny.
It's just that at times this trademark style risks overshadowing the song and arrangement, turning each track in what on the surface could be defined like a "typical Radiohead track'. As a matter of fact there is nothing 'typical' about any of these eight songs, and I am very impressed by how the band, after all these years, keeps growing and exploring musically. Somehow I find myself wondering what these songs would like with vocals that try to sound like a Motown record. But the chances of Thom Yorke taking up this challenge are probably as low as Bono taking off those sunglasses (for Christ's sake man!), so I leave it there.
All in all, another great record and a definite must-buy; I could have used having something more like 'a single' (you know, rock stuff, riffs, energy, etc) but the quality of the record overall is too good to complain, so I just stop here and press play one more time.
Get yours from http://www.thekingoflimbs.com/
*explanation of my comment about "how the MP3 were produced": to cut a long story short, when you produce an MP3 you have more than the choice of bitrate (otherwise known as 'quality'). Depending on the software you use there are many versions of codecs that take care of deciding what to keep and what to throw away of the original material; the end result is still the same MP3 at, say, 320K, but basically a better codec gives you a better result. As a matter of fact I might choose to convert those wavs in AAC format, which work on iThings and sounds better than the best MP3 (they say).