Thom Yorke is the voice of the eclectic artist. He is reason among the fickle chaos driving the juggernaut we call the music industry. He has pushed back against the corporate abuse of musicians in many ways. Thom has long been a critic of the industry and has in recent years criticized Spotify, calling it the “last desperate fart of a dying corpse.” It should not be too surprising that his sophomore solo effort was released yesterday through BitTorrent, the controversial file sharing platform.
Many will remember that Thom’s primary artistic venture, Radiohead, released their album In Rainbows digitally in a pay-what-you-want format. In Rainbows turned out to be one of the band’s most successful albums and in my opinion one of their best. Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes doesn’t fall far from the tree.
The album begins with “A Brain In A Bottle,” a wobbling, dizzying rabbit hole of a song that opens of the musical pallet for the playground Thom has named Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. The vocals are light and filled with decay. The bass is a punchy swell that is reminiscent of The Eraser. Thus, the track serves as the perfect transition forward from the last few Radiohead albums and Atoms For Peace back to the fantasy land of Thom’s solo work. This is an exciting moment.
“Guess Again!” swells up to level with glitchy staccato drum hits and latched hi-hats and a faint foggy air of lethargic soft piano chords. It is sad, emotional, driving and begs your eye for a tear. It’s the type of beautiful track fans have come to expect.
The third track, “Interference,” makes use of tender attack of the instruments, soft swells of ambient harmonic vocals, old cheesy synth sounds that have all but been forgotten and simple leads that make the track a lovely fleeting distraction from the monument we came for.
“The Mother Lode” is filthy. It’s backed with Bibio style instrumental samples, a chilled out break beat, and this extra thick funky vibe. Put your head sidewise and move a little. The track is dangerously close to being an electronic dance track. With a few minor changes it could be a solid Deep House anthem.
The guttural sadness of Thom’s voice is at it’s apex in “Truth Ray.” The instrumentals are simple. The layers of swelling samples and light bass hits fill out to be a dream like hit of morphine straight in the neck, as UNKLE Thom puts you down with vague cathartic vocals.
In dances “There Is No Ice (For My Drink)” with an upbeat bossa nova style rhythm. It moves and progresses slowly, led by the muted synth-bass ostinato. The faint whispers in the background are twitchy and semi-disturbing. The track has a nervous breakdown towards the end, as the voices build up and freak out. It’s a great buildup. In the end, the rant gets tuckered out and fades straight into the ambience of “Pink Section.” The second to last track serves just as its title suggests, as pink, detuned noise; a transition section into the conclusion of the album.
The end is here. “Nose Grows Some” begins with vinyl style static. There is dust in the ridges. I can’t understand what Thom is actually saying through the vocals, but I metaphorically hear him say “goodbye.” He is hitting the sweet and hopeful spot of his falsetto that brings out all the feels. It is resolute and warming. The track is wet with reverb and happy emotional distress. It’s a crazy man’s lullaby; Thom Yorke’s broken record.
The album is good, no doubt about it. However, it isn’t overwhelmingly great or groundbreaking. This is comfort food for the generations of music lovers affected by the Radiohead powerhouse. It would be almost sacrilegious to rate this album below four stars, but asking for five is a bit much.