Review – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes by Thom Yorke

Typically unconventional release from Oxford’s finest export…

As front man of the iconic and hugely influential Radiohead, Thom Yorke is no stranger to defying expectations. Since their departure from the guitar-lead rock of The Bends and OK Computer, turning to the haunting blips and drone of Kid A and Amnesiac, Radiohead and in particular Yorke’s love of modern electronic music has been widely publicised. His latest release (announced on day of release, and offered for sale through BitTorrent) sees his solo dalliance with IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) solidify further into out and out symbiosis.

Produced with long-time band collaborator Nigel Godrich, the 8 tracks contained within Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes run the gamut of electronic styles, from post-Autechre glitches to Field-esque loops and chops. Album opener A Brain in a Bottle pans wobbling synths between left and right channels before the first of the album’s many syncopated beats comes in. The track’s a real head-nodder; the scratchy, whining chords that hit before the end really playing well against Yorke’s ever ethereal meanderings.

 Thom Yorke The saviour of Intelligent Dance Music?

Thom Yorke
The saviour of Intelligent Dance Music?

The Mother Lode is the middle track on the album, and it’s a great piece of music that really works as a great climatic builder. The music here sounds similar to the sampling style of The Field but with garage influenced beat that skitters and dances behind piano stabs and a chopped up vocal sample. It’s a 6 minute long scorcher, and I’d be quite happy were it to run to the record’s length and then just start again.

Elsewhere, There Is No Ice (For My Drink) sees padded beats introduce another skewed vocal cut, and one that resembles Like Spinning Plates from Radiohead’s Amnesiac. This time we’re on 4/4 time, and the track has a great minimal techno feel, with Yorke’s ghostly whisper hovering in and out of the mist. More and more percussion is layered in as its 7 minutes unfurl, and again I’m sort of hoping that it all won’t end.

As with all of Yorke’s lyrics, those found on this album lean more towards the abstract, fitting the mood and tone in a melodic sense, rather than offering something of great insight.  The feelings of modern-angst, paranoia and despair that line Radiohead’s work is here throughout. But it’s not a gloomy album. Well, not overly gloomy anyway! The gloom feels about right for the roads that the songs take, and not many people will press play expecting to hear rainbows and kittens!

Production wise the work is excellent. One thing that that plagued Yorke’s other side project Atoms for Peace and their album Amok was that whilst the music sounded nice and dense when needed, Yorke’s vocal was too muffled in the mix. His lyrics are indecipherable at the best of times, so it’s a welcomed boost to hear this area cleaned up this time around.

I’m a Radiohead fanboy, plus I love almost every artist that seems to have been an inspiration in the making of this record, so my opinion here is biased. If I was looking at it entirely impartially, I’d have to say it isn’t necessarily an easy album for the casual listener to get into. For long term fans though, this coupled with Yorke’s announcement of a new Radiohead album in progress, means that exciting times are surely ahead.

Author – Chris, Liverpool store