Listen Thom, we need to talk. It’s not me, it’s you. You’ve decided to release your new record, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes via Bittorrent. Conceptually, it’s neat wee idea, using the model which the industry has railed against for the last 15 years. It’s cheeky and somewhat clever, but a bit ‘too little too late’ considering the success of services like Bandcamp. The album’s release model is also stuck with being compared, quite fairly, to the ‘Pay what you want’ model of 2007’s In Rainbows. The thing is, that album legitimately challenged how we experience and release music in the modern age and forced us to reconsider the value associated with our non-physical music formats. Theoretically, that’s kind of genius and a particularly astute artistic musical statement; Bittorrent, on the other hand, is almost quaint by comparison. While the release schedule is typically the least interesting part of the album, it’s important to recognize that Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes doesn’t rise above its gimmick.
In many ways, the album is a retread of a handful of points in Yorke’s career: his 2006 solo album The Eraser, his collaborations with Burial and Four Tet and the first half of Radiohead‘s last release The King of Limbs. While The Eraser is a perfectly acceptable, and at points quite interesting electronica record that forms a solid bedrock for this album, The King of Limbs was only slightly above Pablo Honey in the grand scheme of Thom Yorke. TMB is unfortunately constrained by the same rigidity and absence of a danceable groove which crippled Limbs. With its glitch drums and dubstep-inflected bass parts, the influence of Burial is apparent throughout. With all this said, the record isn’t terrible. ‘Brain In A Bottle’ is a good single and a very good litmus test for the album as a whole. The man’s ethereal existential angelic wail has the same power that it has held for much of the last two decades and throughout its less than forty minute runtime, the beats do get sharper – that gif of Yorke acting like a drunken uncle comes to mind. Sadly the record isn’t able to sustain this momentum and, by the final track, the urge to check how long is left keeps rising. This is such a shame considering the strength of Yorke‘s repertoire. Let’s hope that this is just a blip on an otherwise great track record. Will Murphy