Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
There’s a continual fear (for myself, at least) that Radiohead (and the members within) will never release another piece of art. That fear happened following 2007’s In Rainbows and it’s happening now, ever since the release of 2011’s The King of Limbs. But the fear is irrational, as all members seem to be constantly working; a Radiohead album will inevitably strike again. In the interim, Thom Yorke has been on a roll. His Flea-assisted supergroup, Atoms of Peace, released Amok, a harrowing journey of veteran musicians creating something new, just last year. Now, seemingly out of the blue, Yorke has returned with his first solo album since his debut, The Eraser, was released eight years ago. With Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, he doesn’t disappoint.
Is the title a reference to the technological rectangles and squares we keep in our pockets, on our desks and under our beds? Is it a reference to our future demise? I could talk about the unique release methods and the comparisons to Radiohead, but I’d rather just discuss the inward harmonies within Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes.
Opening with “A Brain in a Bottle,” which was given the visual treatment (aka Thom Yorke acting paranoid with boxing gloves as he’s glitched and edited to resemble Aphex Twin), the album instantly takes the listener back to 2006, back to The Eraser. It is much of the same, but still modern enough to feel more than revised but novel, fresh. It is electric and sober. Reflective and very much alone. As with anything Thom Yorke touches these days, this project was finalized in a million-dollar studio (alongside Nigel Godrich) and various business meetings, but the intimacy created on Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is very personal. First assembled in Yorke’s head, then as a whisper, then as a scribble on a notepad and eventually as a bare boned skeleton. The whole process comes across as sincere and meditative.
Yorke’s emotional piano is present on “Guess Again!” The track sounds like two records conflated through a voice. One part electric, hectic pitter patter, and one part classical piano rhythm, Yorke whispers and wails over both and makes it spacey. The double vision is reflective in the artwork as well: a charcoal sketch of the moon (or a desolate graveyard) with an improbable, neon green, geometric shape floating above.
“The ground may open up and swallow us in an instant, in an instant.”
The more mellow the song, the better, in my opinion, so tracks like “Interference” and “Truth Ray” really do it for me. Not to get it twisted, though: this isn’t a sing-a-long album. There are very few lines that will make you bust out your best falsetto (as I’ve been known to do throughout Hail to the Thief). Instead, this is atmospheric, personal and grippingly emotional. To give this one listen is to do it a disservice. And it’s unfortunate that most reviews and write-ups focus on the release method (which is, albeit, unique and worth reading about), but tracks like the grooving six minute “The Mother Lode” have yet to be properly dissected.
As much as it pains me, there are speed bumps and potholes (har har) on this LP. Despite being seven minutes long, “There is No Ice (For My Drink)” seems to act like an interlude as well as the least satisfying piece on the project. It takes a great deal of time to get nowhere as the introversion of Yorke grows thicker and thicker and he finds himself deep within his own dreams. Unfortunately, it’s a dream none of us can navigate.
Next, we get “Pink Section,” which is also an interlude and similarly does little to entertain. It’s two-and-a-half minutes of flies buzzing around, swatting away the madness and hunting for peace. Luckily, peace is granted and we are given the closer, “Nose Grows Some,” a redemption of sorts, and a fine finale for Thom Yorke, experimental tweaker forever making music, be it with a band or within the confines of his own membrane. Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is more of the latter, but, despite a few odd detours, it’s nice of him to let us inside for 38 minutes.
3.5 out of 5
You can purchase the project here.