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Radiohead
TKOL RMX 1234567 Rory Gibb , October 3rd, 2011 07:27

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The King Of Limbs ended up being a fairly divisive, strange little creature of a record. Long-term fans for the most part seemed to come round eventually to its subtle charms (this reviewer included), though its muted nocturnal tones and almost oppressively maudlin atmosphere haven't really lent themselves to summertime listens. It may well prove a more appropriate accompaniment to frosty winter evenings. However, that hasn't stopped its constituent components being pretty ubiquitous throughout the last few months, thanks to this gargantuan remix project that's stretched across seven 12"s and now a CD compilation. On club and festival dancefloors it's been hard to escape at least flashes of Thom Yorke's falsetto - seemingly the default mode for most of The King Of Limbs; it was rather a shame that it contained so little of the frantic energy of something like 'Sit Down Stand Up' - thanks to floor-friendly remixes from Lone, Pearson Sound and Four Tet.

Though their own music tends to polarise opinions, it's always been tough to criticise Radiohead's wide-ranging tastes and tireless support of little-known electronic artists (they've currently got New York two-step don FaltyDL and Pearson Sound out on tour with them). Though they've previously opened up the floor to remixers for In Rainbows' 'Nude' single, this is the first time they've attempted something of such magnitude - the CD version totals 19 versions of TKOL tracks, from producers as far apart as long-running associate Four Tet, Berlin techno hero Shed and garage-popster SBTRKT. It's entirely to the band's credit that they've chosen to support such a wide range of underground talent - the likes of Objekt, Brokenchord and Actress (in his Thriller guise) are unlikely to gain this amount of exposure with their usual release schedules. Any project that helps to draw attention to the sheer volume of original and challenging electronic music currently operating beneath the radar deserves to be commended in itself.

It's to the remixers' own credit - and perhaps, also, to the homogenous nature of the source material - that TKOL RMX 1234567 does a fine job of highlighting each producer's own idiosyncracies. As a representative of the Night Slugs label, Jacques Greene's 'Lotus Flower' is all muted two-step swing and sharp, drawn-out synth. Blawan, known for his unusually tough approach to percussion, turns 'Bloom''s drums into a crushing techno stomp - a little one-dimensional compared to his usual output perhaps, but a welcome diversion into nosebleed territory nonetheless. Jamie xx, meanwhile, brings out those bloody steel pans again, but at least tones down the overly twee folksiness that terminally marred his recent single 'Far Nearer'.

As ever with remix collections, TKOL RMX 1234567 can be a slog. It's tough to listen to the entire way through - though, split onto two discs, that's probably not the intention anyway - as elements of the same songs crop up repeatedly across its length. Perhaps the one major criticism is that very few remixers elect to do away with Yorke's vocals entirely. Where current bass producers seem enamoured with slicing the human voice into snippets and rearranging it into entirely new, synthetic melodies, Yorke remains a constant presence on this compilation. As a result almost every track here remains, at heart, completely rooted in, and affected by, Radiohead's own legacy. Yes, he might be the recognisable core of the band, but given their ongoing commitment to experimentation it's surprising to hear so much of him here. Especially when you bear in mind that Yorke's relentlessly anxious tone throughout The King Of Limbs doesn't exactly lend itself well to escapism - there's little diva-vocal bliss here, more a touch of doom on the dancefloor.

That said, there is a consistency of quality that rarely drops throughout TKOL RMX 1234567 , though a couple of remixes feel a little forgettable. Presumably that's down to the carefully curated nature of this compilation - none of these producers were throwaway choices. Still, the best here manage to transcend the distinctive nature of their source material. Lone's 'Feral' does away with his neon rave throwback styles in favour of a rush of lush, Chris Clark/Boards Of Canada synth, accompanied by jabbing woodblock percussion. It's not too far off something Warp might have released in the mid-late 90s, with the added benefit of being subtly, but compulsively, danceable. Berlin's Objekt is doing very sexy things with dry, crisp percussion at the moment, and his 'Bloom' is no exception, a juddering, stop-start creature driven by sandpaper bass. Thriller (either Actress or Lukid, or both) turns 'Give Up The Ghost' into a pillowy soft, lazy house track. And Illum Sphere is one of the few to use Yorke's voice in genuinely interesting, emotionally involving ways, looping barely intelligible slices of the track above a gradually escalating wall of background sound. It's the sound of Radiohead engaging with a creative underground they've both inspired and draw a great deal of inspiration from - the essence of this interesting and occasionally excellent project.

Jeff
Oct 3, 2011 2:25pm

TKOL: oppressively maudlin?

A. That's the first time those two words have been paired up. Bravo.

B. If there's any one Radiohead record that ~isn't~ maudlin, it's TKOL. It's a very subtle, unromantic record. A few of the tracks are downright positive, which is rare for this band!

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Rory Gibb
Oct 3, 2011 4:53pm

Hmm, I'd disagree (clearly, seeing as how I wrote it above) - I find that TKOL's got a sad, fuzzy, nocturnal sort of energy that I find far more intense and oppressive than, say, anything off In Rainbows, Kid A, or even Amnesiac (and I speak as a fan of all of the above records)

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Oct 3, 2011 10:52pm

In reply to Rory Gibb:

I agree with Rory myself re: TKOL. Let's be frank here, it's alright. It's decent. Sounds a bit B-sidey, maybe...??

Uncharacteristic lack of funk in the uptempo tracks on the album, a lot of the rhythms are oppresively dense and - dare I say it - inorganic-sounding. Reminded me of The Eraser in that way. Too many fidgety, stop-start drum edits eg.bloom. Radiohead's best uptempo stuff rides on some seriously jammin, open grooves - organic bass/drum combos a la airbag, national anthem, even planet telex... Not much of that in evidence on TKOL.

The downtempo stuff that dominates the 2nd half of TKOL ghosts by without much force, has a light whiff of mid/late seventies Neil Young about it, but with none of the stellar melodies that made In Rainbows so accessible.

Pleasant, but eminently forgettable.

I find it a relief to discover someone else isn't a fan of far nearer by Jamie XX. Totally left me cold that track. Way too polite and twee for me. What was all the fuss about??

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Oct 5, 2011 12:33am

@ the previous commenter: you'll find that Resident Advisor weren't too fond of "Far Nearer" either! I don't mind it but those pans and high vox certainly do take it way into "Balearic" territory.

...So as to stay on topic, I'm glad to have read this review, as I hadn't looked at the full list of remixers, and I agree that it's really cool that Radiohead's bringing a potentially wider audience to these excellent underground producers.

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