The unique ways in which Radiohead, and the individual members of the Oxford quintet, have been releasing music of late has almost eclipsed the music in peaking excitement levels by breaking new ground. Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is in danger of being ignored over its method of release , as Thom Yorke both announced the record moments before its release and released it via BitTorrent as “an experiment to see if the mechanics of the system are something that the general public can get its head around”. Fortunately, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes reveals itself as an album worthy of attention.
Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is Yorke’s second solo LP, finally following-up 2006’s The Eraser, and, like its predecessor, guitars are essentially non-existent with the focus is on his introspective vocals and electronic impulses. Opener ‘A Brain In A Bottle’s skittering beats and commanding pulsations create a world for Yorke’s delicate falsetto to inhabit. Likewise, ‘Interference’ is a still yet luscious backdrop of chiming piano, that sees Yorke painfully accepting that “I don’t have a right to interfere“. Its always felt like Yorke’s previous releases away from Radiohead have been an argument between the robot and the human, yet this record sees them peacefully co-exist.
However, it’s not all a downbeat exploration of Yorke’s vocals, as a couple of tracks clearly see him taking influence from his DJing experiences, such as ‘The Mother Lode’, a playful combination of a warm, booming bass and a Yorke’s joyful cooing. The only real misstep on this otherwise cohesive album is ‘There Is No Ice (For My Drink)’, which is overly long, led by a jarring bassline, and frequently sees the appearance monotonous mumbled vocals. The track eventually builds to a muddled climax that feels out of place on an album that emphasises beauty.
Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes serves as a reminder of many things about Yorke. It reassures us that he’s still capable of pleasant surprises, that he’s able to point a dying industry towards a solution (just weeks after U2‘s pathetic attempts to do the same), and, most importantly, that his astonishing voice is at its most powerful and moving when it’s at its most gentle.