By Maxime Gareau
Thom Yorke has finally developed a predictable pattern: distributing his music in an unconventional manner, and with haunting ambient vocals that you can barely decipher over a skittish electronic beat.
That doesn’t mean Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is bad. It just feels like more of the same when its title suggests the future. Yorke posted a blog saying he will release it as a $6 bundle on BitTorrent, an insanely popular pirating client that is notoriously used for peer-to-peer file sharing for movies, video games, music, and anything else you can download. Yorke’s tactic seems to have worked - reports show the album was downloaded over a million times in the first week it was released.
The content is good but not as experimental as the distribution of the album. It’s the same jerky electronica that he’s been producing for awhile, but he has honed his craft and there are a couple of flashes of fresh brilliance.
If you’ve listened to his first solo album, The Eraser, Radiohead’s 2011 album The King of Limbs, and the remix album, as well as his supergroup side project Atoms for Peace’s newest album Amok, you’ll know what to expect. The first song, “A Brain in a Bottle,” will start with an electronic garble, and an ever-growing beat that increases its layers until Thom’s voice materializes to add some humanity to an otherwise cold track.
Thom Yorke hasn’t been making music to please his fans. This album, along with the rest of his discography (later Radiohead works included) have been for himself, but many still eat it up. That said, this record is fairly accessible; there are no big hooks, but it is quite melodic and rhythmic. The “catchiest” song may be “Interference,” a short ballad with an actual chorus that seems like an interlude between tracks.
Yorke and his long-time producer Nigel Godrich have crafted their sound very well: electronic music that tries to emulate analog, avoiding the pristine clean and vacuum-sealed sound of modern electronic dance music. The most “out of left field” song on this album is its centerpiece, “There is No Ice (For My Drink),” a seven-minute techno romp that feels like it’s pulled out of Yorke’s dreams; a series of fragmented memories melded together to make one.
The lyrical content from this album contrasts with Yorke’s first solo album, which contains very political lyrics. His age indicates he is much more subdued on this album. His fatherhood is reflected on this record, with “Guess Again,” which is about protecting his children from disturbing and dark monsters. He still has some depressing lyrics to share, with “Mother Lode”—arguably the best song out of the eight on the album and of his entire solo career—being about a clown with no audience to amuse, “You can’t see your way out of this one/ He makes a joke, but nobody will listen.”
Everyone will be talking about the distribution method of this album, but there is still good music to enjoy after you download it from BitTorrent. Its length of thirty-nine minutes helps - you don’t feel like you’ve listened to a self-indulgent and bloated mess, but almost like a lengthy EP of music Yorke stirred up out of nowhere. It’s not going to please everyone, and some may be expecting more from it, but it’s possible there’s a glimpse of what to expect in the next LP from Radiohead. For six dollars, you can’t go wrong with Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes.