Yorke stores gems in Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes

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Eric Novak

 

Singer Thom Yorke has been the front man of the band Radiohead, one of the leading experimental music groups in the mainstream. They are one of the few bands that manage to retain a sense of the avant-garde while still remaining intensely popular, selling out stadium-sized concerts around the world. In 2006, Yorke began his forays away from Radiohead, with the solo album The Eraser. Since then, he has focused on Radiohead and his band with the Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist, Flea.

This past week, Yorke released his second solo album Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes as a BitTorrent bundle. In this format, Yorke has blazed a new trail in releasing albums that hasn’t really been done before in the style of self-released music.

The album features Yorke at his most stripped-down and visceral, eclipsing the use of guitars and drums for synthesizers and programmed beats. This gives the album a much starker, bleaker sonic palette from his other work, which works very well as the mood of the album is very consistent throughout.

The album begins with the song “Brain In a Bottle,” which is accompanied by a jarring, edgy black and white music video. The song sets up the mood of the album very well, with its skittering beats, washes of synth and electronic noise and Thom Yorke’s nervous and eerie-sounding voice.

The song suggests a type of manic loneliness, as Yorke sings alone at first, but, in what appears to be the chorus of the song. His voice then echoes into multiple parts, creating a disconnect from the self, which is the vibe I get from the whole album.

The album’s softest point, “Interference,” gives the listener a brief respite from Yorke’s nervous beat-making and offers a moment of real beauty amidst the loneliness. Adding to the eerie, back-alley feel of this album are the reverberated electronic noises that sometimes threaten to engulf the track, but always hold back just barely enough.

Each song is anchored by wobbly, repetitive synth riffs and dry programmed drum beats. The production style gives the songs a very cold and detached feel. This is not a criticism, though, as this album would be perfect to put on for a rainy day or just to relax, as Yorke seems to take his time with all of the songs.

Despite its relatively short running time of 38 minutes, Yorke tackles each song with an unmovable calm, letting the songs inhabit a space and become a mood rather than fill each song with multiple sections, tempo changes or dynamic shifts. The album is very much anchored to the musical style of minimalism, which builds musical interest out of repetition and subtle development.

This can sometimes be the album’s weakness, as on songs like “There Is No Ice (For My Drink),” Yorke seems to let one synth figure go on for what feels like ages before it changes to something else. This is a minor quibble, though, because this album is felt more than it is analyzed.

When you break it down, there’s a lot of repetition and harmonic stagnancy, anchored by a few riffs and Yorke’s impenetrable lyrics. It’s an album that is built around a consistent mood, and when you listen to it with that frame of mind, it becomes a very enjoyable and rewarding experience.