Thom Yorke

Tomorrow's Modern Boxes

Oh Lordy, it’s a new Thom Yorke distribution strategy. This time you have to download BitTorrent to access the “self-contained embeddable shop front”, and you’ll have to navigate that there “pay gate” to access “a bundle of files”. Call me old-fashioned, but I miss the days when massive stadium-sized bands just inserted their new records onto our computers like malware, or when Keane put out a single on a USB stick and dropped 1000s of them on Milton Keynes, killing five. Them were the proper days of music, the swashbuckling 2010s before Spotify came along and rounded us all up and forced us to write SEO entries for 6p an hour while the Monopoly Man got fat on endless faberge egg omelettes.

I’m sneering, of course, and, in his tank-topped way, Thom’s right to have a go at putting the lid back on Pandora’s Box. He’s read his Jaron Lanier, he knows the future belongs to the server overlords, and that we mere content monkeys must dance forever, until our little monkey hearts give in from exhaustion and rickets. He wants to save us, and he means well. But Christ, must every new release now announce itself like an update to Google Chrome? Perhaps I’m not shifting enough paradigms (God knows I’ve tried), but the surprise release of In Rainbows excited me not because it was The Move That Saved Music Forever, but because hey, I woke up and there was a new Radiohead album out and it had ‘Reckoner’ on it, and wasn’t that just a lovely song?

Anyway… Buried deep in your copy of Logistics Today is a free record, and it’s a pretty good one. Not a great one, not Amnesiac, but a Thom Yorke record with some keepers on it. As ever with Yorke’s solo work, it’s at its best when the loveable tyke is going with the flow instead of deliberately trying to sabotage his own ear for melody, or trying to bugger up a voice that should just make peace with the fact it’s quite pretty. ‘Interference’ sounds a bit like Radiohead’s ‘Go Slowly’, and plonks an unadorned Yorke at an electric piano, backs him up with a ghostly synth whine and lets him meander through a deep dark woods in moonlight, mourning the end of some misguided affair while the wolves think about gnawing his legs off. Like ‘Truth Ray’, another low-key stunner, its origins seem to lie in the singer simply sat down working through the process of writing a proper song, rather than trying to piece something together from a bundle of wayward laptop sketches and hoping for the best. He lets ‘Truth Ray’ skip along on a simple, twitchy beat, weaves in a burst of bells and a sliver of reversed vocal at the end, and permits the track to subtly soar without over-egging it.

‘The Mother Lode’ too has a lightness of touch that’s not always associated with the fun-lovin’ freestyler behind ‘We Suck Young Blood’ and ‘Fitter Happier’. It starts off like a Field cut with a barrage of clipped, looping pianos and far-off vocal samples before a sweep of pads about three minutes in heralds a joyous tumble of toms (Toms Yorke?) and we’re swept up in an ecstatic counterpart to The Eraser‘s ‘Cymbal Rush’. And, look, I know you’re not going to believe me when I say a track called ‘There Is No Ice (For My Drink)’ is worth listening to, but it’s a playful, creative, tantalising glimpse at what a largely vocal-less Thom Yorke record would sound like, if he went the other way and stopped being the tortured frontman for a bit.

If you’re a Yorke detractor, ‘Nose Grows Some’ will prove you right, mumbling along as it does with its hands in its pockets in some ungodly cathedral of reverb, spending its final sixty seconds forgetting how to turn Logic off. And like The Eraser, King Of Limbs and Amok before it, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes sees the singer behind Q‘s Most Important Band Of All Time buggering around and doing his own thing instead of striving for a tortured masterpiece. That means as well as breezy bursts of proper inspiration, you’ll get some trumped-up demos where Yorke gets a pretty melody in his head, lays it down and then can’t really be arsed to write himself out of a corner (‘Guess Again’). But it’s worth a listen, and if you don’t fancy paying the whole six quid for it, I bet you could find a way to illegally download it, thereby destroying the creative industries forever and trapping us all inside Internet Explorer 6 for the rest of time, you bastard.

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