Nights In

Album review: thom yorke’s “tomorrow’s modern boxes”

Thom Yorke is not one to be left behind in the wake of new trends. Besides releasing the revolutionary Kid A with his band Radiohead, which was a complete overhaul of their musical sensibilities up to that point, Yorke has managed to establish a sense of surprise when it comes to his albums’ distribution. 

With his second solo album, following on from 2006’s The Eraser, Yorke decided to distribute the album through file sharing site bitTorrent. In a cryptic announcement, by Yorke, he explained that he wanted to bypass “self-elected gatekeepers” to show that anyone can upload their music for distribution online.

So what about the music? 

Over the past few years Yorke has collaborated with artists like Burial, Four Tet and Flying Lotus, so it should be no surprise that he remains endeared to grainy, minimalist electronic music. Unperturbed by the mixed critical reception of Radiohead’s last venture, The King of Limbs, Yorke continues to seek beauty amongst a clutter of sounds on Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. 

Listening to the album, I found myself wondering whether Yorke has found the perfect medium through which to express himself without giving anything away. The vocals are spare and almost always indecipherable, like he’s depriving us of a definite sense of what he wants to say. This leaves us to listen and make sense of sounds that are jagged, ethereal and pretty much unpredictable. 

On Truth Ray we hear a beat rise and fall as Yorke speaks and remains silent, illuminating his voice with each iteration. A sense of claustrophobia is represented by a droning layer, which gives way, at points, to a feeling of clarity, as if Yorke is in his head thinking and experiencing as we listen. 

Interference is fatalistic as it propagates the idea that we have no control over anything. Yorke compares this to the changing colour of leaves, giving the sense that he is comparing fate to something natural and beautiful. 

There is no Ice (For my Drink) starts out as a grumbling repetition, growing as the song progresses to reveal a kind of obsession with the subjects opinion. Sounds swim in the background like whispers or memories. There is a sense that he is trying to maintain his point of view by running through these memories, as if they are fuel for the fire. 

Yorke’s vocals are not as apparent on this album as is usual with his output. This is a shame, but the kind of high-pitched, falsetto that he usually employs doesn’t work well with the descriptive soundscape that he is trying to create. In lieu of his soaring vocals we can hear euphoric electronic undulations, especially on The Mother Lode. Within this song a continuous rhythm builds towards a climactic end. The listener feels the impending epiphanical moment but is eventually let down as the whole reduces to nothing. 

This album may be overshadowed by the secrecy of its origins, but it is, nonetheless, another stellar release by Yorke, sadly destined to be misunderstood.  

Rating 8/10