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Fresh Beats: “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes”

Fresh Beats: “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes”

Fresh Beats: “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes”
September 30
00:00 2014

Matt Wood / Senior Staff Writer

Rating:

4/5

Four days ago, Thom Yorke, self-proclaimed weirdo, released a new record without ever giving a release date. Although, at this point, his cryptic album releases shouldn’t be a surprise to followers of the Radiohead frontman’s bizarre tendencies.

In very Thom Yorke fashion, he teased his second solo record with Instagram pictures of a white record, leading to a sea of speculation about a new Radiohead album.

That didn’t turn out to be the case. Misleading and disappointing hunches aside, releasing an actual Thom Yorke album is still a relief after having previous work embedded into an app.

In 2007, Yorke released “In Rainbows” with Radiohead through a “pay what you want” format, including an option to pay nothing, in response to the band’s growing disdain for the format of the music industry. The move was marked as revolutionary, and Time Magazine credited it as “easily the most important release in the recent history of the music business.”

On Radiohead’s next album, “The King of Limbs,” there was absolute silence about the possibility of a new album until five days before its release. And a month later, Radiohead produced a 12-page newspaper that was handed out at record stores across the world to accompany the album.

With “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes,” Yorke once again broke new ground by making it the first album released through the peer-to-peer file sharing service BitTorrent with a pay gate, priced at $6. BitTorrent is more frequently used as a means for sharing illegally-obtained media, but Yorke said in an article from The Guardian that part of his goal with this release was to change that notion.

With 170 million active BitTorrent users, the platform rivals the subscribers of Netflix and other media sharing conduits. But Yorke is hoping to rewrite the perceptions of BitTorrent in response to services like Spotify, which he publicly condemned for strangulating the music industry. He even removed all his own music from the site, except for the major label-owned Radiohead albums that he didn’t have control over.

“Boxes” is an exploration into Yorke’s ability as a solo artist. His last record, “The Eraser,” excelled when Yorke used his falsetto and unique vocal styling to create airy textures over a digital field underneath it. “Boxes” has its moments in the same vein, but falls into repetitive electronic beats and pushes away the vocals. The human touch that Yorke’s voice lends to the effort is crucial, but it feels sparse in the longer tracks and as a result, lacks engagement. You can only listen to a beat on repeat for so many loops before it begs for a new element.

But, even when it falls into these loops, the sounds Yorke creates are distinctly his own. Carving out a signature electronic sound is a hard niche to grasp, but anyone who has listened to Radiohead’s “Kid A” or “Amnesiac” should be able to tell who’s handling the production.

However, “Guess Again!” works as a perfect realization of what Thom Yorke can achieve in his solo work – a rhythm track of fuzzy, artificial electronic noises juxtaposed by a swelling, calm synthesizer part. Melding a highly emotional, soulful keyboard part with the perpetual computer-like clicking is a trope that Yorke is more than familiar with, representing the clash between raw human emotion and the numbing binary of technology.

The aim with addressing this theme, though, isn’t to lament how evil technology is. It’s clear that Yorke is not only dependent on it, but has tamed the medium. Instead, the theme emphasizes the importance of retaining humanity alongside the overwhelming presence of electronics.

But, largely by the nature of electronic music and Yorke’s solo work in general, it serves better as background music and isn’t as gripping or attention-grabbing as the full-band efforts of Radiohead. The album is haunting, ethereal and very enjoyable in the right context, but in many ways it is alienating and challenging. “Boxes” is definitely a grower, and will likely prove more enjoyable with each listen, as with equally challenging records like Radiohead’s “Kid A.”

Thom Yorke may flip the world on its head with his method of releasing, but “Boxes” is right up his alley with no surprises. But for any Radiohead fan itching for a new album, this should be the perfect salve to hold you over until Thom Yorke decides to release his new album via brainwaves.

Featured Image: Thom Yorke performs at the Glastonbury Festival in England in 2010. Yorke has recorded two solo albums, one album as part of the band Atoms for Peace, and eight albums as Radiohead’s lead singer. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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