[ALBUM REVIEW] Thom Yorke: Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
The number of artists that have reached the same level in the music business as Thom Yorke is incredibly low. I’m not referring to the top, but the level above the top which is reached when those at the top have achieved total musical freedom and are jumping as high as they can out of sheer joy. Thom Yorke has been jumping since Radiohead released OK Computer back in ’97 all the way until he released Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes with no announcement other than a few tweets and an Instagram picture of a white vinyl record.
If one were to listen to Yorke’s recorded work chronologically, it becomes immediately clear that he has taken advantage of this freedom to the fullest. Considering his career flourished in the late 90’s when electronic music itself was barely starting to become mainstream, Yorke’s ability to maintain a huge fanbase from the hard rock of OK, to the electronically constructed Kid A, is what got Thom Yorke jumping. Since then, the work of Radiohead as well as Yorke’s other projects has involved more synthetic sounds and less standard music theory, but the other musicians involved in these projects tapped Yorke’s more traditional roots, forcing him in a way to keep his songwriting more grounded.
Now, with Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, he has shown the world just how fascinated he’s become with electronic music.
Because these sounds were created inside of a computer to be copy and pasted into songs, the production of TMB comes down to two elements: The quality of the sounds and how well they are put together. It’s not like King of Limbs was very grounded in western music theory, but TMB displays a new kind of compositional clutter that can only be explained by Thom Yorke. This time, however, he doesn’t do the best job explaining.
All music needs some sense of time and electronic music almost always has a defined beat regardless of how erratic and dissonant the rest of the sounds are. Of course the word “usually” doesn’t belong in a sentence pertaining to Thom Yorke, but the beats on TMB are at best monotonous and at worst so arhythmic that the songs just spin around in circles while random computer drums come out of nowhere. “Brain In A Bottle” chugs forward at about five miles an hour, with random clicks that make the song feel like a long drum solo under Yorke’s vocals. On “There Is No Ice (For My Drink)” it is obvious the drums were placed in awkward positions purpose. If “Pink Section” wasn’t solely an interlude, it would serve the album no purpose other than Yorke showing us he knows how to put random sounds together.
Although the beats weren’t the most expertly produced, the melodic devices Yorke placed above them are where he shines. Thom Yorke isn’t a singer known for his volume, his pitch or anything else the judges on American Idol would look for. Rather, he learned to alter his voice to play any role in the song he wants. On TMB his voice sampled, effected, and otherwise altered into both high frequency injections and mellow synth pads, providing a serene wash underneath his signature falsetto. “Interference” is a beautiful electronic piano ballad that proves Yorke’s vocals have never diminished in quality.
If Thom Yorke did anything by releasing a secret solo album for six dollars, he assured his fans how happy he is jumping up and down on top of the music business, but the problem with being up there for so long is forgetting where you came from. Yorke is one of the best songwriters currently alive and that’s why his fans are so loyal, but he’s forgetting that Radiohead is what brought him musical freedom. Radiohead represented all five of its members desires to push music to new limits. Thom Yorke has now released two records since King Of Limbs (TMB and Amok), both of which are rooted in electronic erraticism in the same manner as KOL. If Yorke doesn’t channel some Radiohead-level creativity soon, he might not be able to jump for a while.
The king of experimentation himself, Yorke released Tomorrow's Modern Boxes via BitTorrent as a distribution experiment. You can download it as a bundle from the link above for just $6.