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Thom yorke tomorrows modern boxes

Tomorrow's Modern Boxes

Thom Yorke - 2014

There was no build up to Thom Yorke’s second solo effort released this year. One day, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes wasn’t here and the next, it was. Given how phenomenal his 2006 album, The Eraser was, this was probably a good move. Given months to anticipate the follow up to Eraser, the expectation of Boxes would have always outweighed what it was going to present, no matter how good it was. Given time to query what direction the Radiohead front-man would be taking after being eight years removed from his opus, then Boxes would have been a very serious let down - because after those eight years, it’s still the same direction and disappointingly, the same sound. The man whose band was celebrated often for its ability to morph its sound into something new and unique, has seemed to have become beached - his musicianship still great and wondrous to behold, but unfortunately run aground. The inital reaction to the solid yet ‘still’ music on Boxes is much the same as the reaction I had when suddenly I learned that there was a new Yorke album out on the market - one of general approval but lacking in excitement. To be sure, a Thom Yorke solo album is still much more interesting than most others these days, but Boxes’ crime is not in the quality of its work but more so in the familiarity it breeds in us. In listening to just the first two tracks of Boxes you easily get to the conclusion that, ‘oh yes, this is definitely a Thom Yorke album’ based solely on its familiar sounds drawn from The Eraser and the Radiohead back catalogue. As this is only his second album as a solo artist, that’s not a good thing to conclude so early on in listening to it. We shouldn’t already be able to pigeon-hole the man who used to wear so many musical masks. We expect him as a solo artist to still be in the evolutionary process but alas, he seems not be. (When Jack Johnson releases a new album, we expect it to sound like every other Jack Johnson album and his fans are ok with that. That’s the appeal of an artist like Johnson. Thom Yorke? Due to his previous outings, we expect so much more even if the expectant ashes of his last album are still burning bright.) Major Thom, you’re still soaring but you haven’t made the grade this time. However, let’s focus on what Boxes is and what it gives to us. What Boxes is, is Yorke’s version of electronic music (his not so secret musical mistress). This genre of music relies entirely on having well designed beats to back up tracks that more often than not, don’t go to many different places and certainly not to very exotic ones. Yorke’s beats, though tethered to a single time signature do the job and really, they’re the stand out of all the work done on Boxes. Throughout most of the album, Yorke layers mildly interesting rhythmic ideas on top of each other - these culminating in an overall curious and entertaining groove. The opening track, A Brain In A Bottle, not only examples this well but is also one of the best tracks on the album. Here, Yorke uses three different and relatively thoughtful rhythmic lines, each intersecting with one another to create a rather unsteady background for the track. It plays in great contrast to the soft and subtle melody line, explored in falsetto and providing comfort from the uneven ground that the rest of the song rests and relies upon. Indeed, when the groove is on form on Boxes the best work is to be found. Easily the best track, The Mother Lode, inspires the ears as the body is taken by the increased tempo and the reliability of the groove emphasizing the pulse of each traditional beat, while the mind is off under the control of the offbeat progression form. There is something in this inviting head throbbing beat that seems to flirt with Thom as a door to a new platform for his music to step through. Unfortunately, Yorke sticks true to the old familiarity of the sounds that make up Mother Lode so we never get the chance to pass through that entryway with the music. It’s in this ability to recognize certain sounds of his past, that Boxes’ ability to move out to new waters is harpooned. The almost innocuous clicks and thuds that are meant to be hidden in the background of the beats are unfortunately pushed to the front line because of our familiarity with them. Whether sounds of Idioteque are called to refrence or Pulk/Pull Revolving doors, it’s the little blips and bops from these past triumphs that are to be the ruin of Boxes in the present. It’s the minor details that Yorke seems attached to that become the major factor in the feeling of disappointment with Boxes. Worst still, some parts of certain tracks conjure up certain aspects of other past works in their entirety. Guess Again, has a piano part that due to the quality of the chords used and where they sit on the piano, reminds us instantly of Pyramid Song - this in spite of the fact that the songs in general are in very clear contrast to each other. Truth Ray has a completely different beat and style to Radiohead’s, Where I End and You Begin, but the quality of the sound of the progression, is a clear cousin to its predecessor. Where Boxes has major success is when Yorke moves in his songs to a more major tonality. This is because most of his work beforehand has been rather moody and introspective (perfectly so I might add), so when a positive light is brought down upon his music by the use of a major 3rd, it’s stunning to behold. The ending track, Nose Grows Some, is a great example of how when he explores this unused area of music tonality in an unobvious way, the music becomes rehydrated and the ears revitalized. The track itself is a promising effort that leads one to hope that there is more to Thom Yorke than we have heard before and are hearing on Boxes. A great summary of this album is to be found in listening to the 6th of the 8 tracks, There Is No Ice (For My Drink). Overall, it’s an interesting and effective mood injector – a sort of oddly shaped, out of body and mind musical sequence. However, the mood, although enticing, ultimately does not move us to an area of pure auditory satisfaction and therefore does not warrant a want or need to keep going back to it.

Posted by Andrew Scott

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Posted: 10/07/2014