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Radiohead

The King of Limbs (XL / TBD)

Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., March 4, 2011

Phases & Stages

Radiohead

The King of Limbs (XL/TBD)

Radiohead accomplishes a rare feat with The King of Limbs: a digital release that defies instant gratification. The pioneering UK quintet's eighth and shortest studio album presents a challenging, beatific assemblage of grayscale electronica and glass-house frailty that, like 2003's Hail to the Thief in the wake of Kid A's digital awakening, offers more of a ripple effect than a sonic sea change from predecessor In Rainbows. "Bloom" awakens in a dream sequence, a lone piano circuit warped and cast off to a tectonic beatscape of flinching, symphonic effects anchored by Phil Selway's fluttering percussion and the heavy swoon of Colin Greenwood's bass. Thom Yorke works wonders in such ambient realms, his serene melodies a constant buoy above the tonal wash. In the vindictive throb and purposeful truncation of "Morning Mr. Magpie," cobweb-cluttering "Little by Little," and headphone rave "Feral," the first half of Limbs could pass as a more fully realized version of the singer's solo reboot, The Eraser. The only obvious single aside from final bow "Separator," "Lotus Flower" marks a subtle shift in focus and structure, a commanding piece of modern electro-pop that gives way to the sublime "Codex," a piano ballad of near-lunar isolation that ranks among the band's finest work. "Give Up the Ghost" is a song shadowed by itself, an acoustic reverie set atop a looped backdrop of Yorke alternately crooning "don't hurt me" and "in your arms." Such moments of unnerving beauty make The King of Limbs, despite its complete lack of guitar-rock grandeur, worth revisiting time and again.

***

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