First Listen: The King of Limbs, Radiohead

4.00

Kings of reinvention, but Radiohead haven't gone out on a limb

As usual, the first listen to a new Radiohead album leaves a slight residue of disappointment – Is that all? Just eight tracks? And so lacking in the variety one might expect? – which dissipates with each successive hearing, as the overall design becomes clearer.

After several listens, a few points become more apparent. The first is the relative absence, especially for a band nominally boasting three guitarists, of any but the subtlest, most diffident guitar parts. Instead, the album floats on airy keyboard loops anchored by brittle drum patterns and bedded within a background patina comprised of natural sounds – bird song, wind, etc – and glitchy electronic bricolage, as if surfing the cusp between the analogue and digital worlds. The second is the contrast with the previous album In Rainbows, which, as its cover design implied, gleamed with iridescent musical colours; here, the world seems much more monochrome – as in the video for "Lotus Flower", in which Thom Yorke throws expressive dancing shapes in an abandoned warehouse space. Stark, black-and-white beats are tinted with greyscale keyboard chords, while Yorke's layered vocals cloud around like fog.

"Bloom" trickles in on a fluttering loop of piano, with a bustling 5/4 drum figure swiftly added; humming vocal lines, and what sounds like a high trumpet line, lend it the miasmic manner of Miles Davis, circa In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew, as Yorke invites us to "Open your mouth wide/ Universal sigh", before diving into the "ocean blue". It's a strange opener, coalescing gradually rather than imposing itself, but as such indicative of the album as a whole. "Morning Mr Magpie" rides a damped guitar riff and hi-hat, with reverberating sheets of sound looming ever larger, until everything suddenly resolves into a quiet clearing. The instrumental "Feral" sounds in a blessed hurry to get nowhere in particular, its collaged smudges of electronic noise and treated vocal sounds careering along on another animated percussion riff. But "Lotus Flower" is lovely, its loping bass and brusque drums carrying Yorke's most affecting falsetto as he protests how "there's an empty space inside my heart". "Codex" continues in similar vein, with an airy, soulful vocal and portentous piano chords freighted with more trumpet tones and the merest fragment of swirling strings. Then bird song segues into the slow groove and acoustic guitar chords of "Give Up the Ghost", whose looped and layered vocal counterpoints stack into a disembodied chorale.

"Separator" is the final track, with more echoey vocals and brittle drums embellished with pleasing guitar filigree and piano. It ends with a quiet counterpoint of "Wake me up, wake me up" surfacing through the later stages, as if the track – or maybe the entire album – has been a drifting dream. That's not inappropriate: in overall design, The King of Limbs sounds like the bastard offspring of dubstep and Nico Muhly, the brilliant composer whose string and choral arrangements inhabit the open spaces between contemporary classical and art-rock. As usual, it bears little direct relation to previous Radiohead albums, but could hardly have been made by any other band, a paradox which could serve as the group's distinctive imprimatur.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all