Underrated Listen: Radiohead – The King of Limbs

The ‘King of Limbs’ is definitely one of Radiohead’s more experimental albums. It seems as if the band became extra fascinated with rhythms are textures. The name ‘King of Limbs’ means rhythm; you dance, rhythm is literally the King of Limbs! When released on March 28 2011, everyone was as excited as you can be for a new Radiohead release. When finally released the overall reception for the album wasn’t nearly as good as their previous albums. People were disappointed with the album length only being 37:34 minutes.
A lot of fans had trouble with understanding this new and very different sound Radiohead was emulating.
Recently with the release of A Moon Shaped Pool people are having The King of Limbs click for them. I am one of those people. This album is insanely revolutionary.
The album starts with the song ‘Bloom.‘ This is easily one of my favorites from the album. The way Radiohead creates a rhythm in this song is otherworldly. You are bombarded with repetitive sounds such as a piano loop, drums playing a lullaby, little warbles played on a drum pad, and ed’s synth-like guitar playing.
The song sounds like a living organism; like a Cell working to keep a larger organism alive. Colin’s bass line keeps the rhythm of the song fresh in your mind. Thom really shines in this song with vocal processing and lyrics. Thom sings about the universe and the ocean as a metaphor for dealing with his emotions and trying to stay hopeful. In the middle of the song, you can hear bugle horns playing in a somber fashion similarly to Thom’s singing. ‘Bloom’ is a perfect opener for this very organic Radiohead album. I saw them play this song at Osheaga Music Festival and was blown away how it was even better and more real live.
Second on the eight-song track list is a song called ‘Morning Mr Magpie.‘ Once again Radiohead makes it clear they are focusing on the rhythm. Chopped drum loops and played percussive guitar is used throughout the song with Jonny playing jazzy bits on his guitar; Ed makes very interesting atmospheric noises with his effects. Colin is the real star in this song though, the bass line is so infectious. I can’t help but play the air bass when I hear this bass line. Thom gets very metaphorical by using Magpies in a very abstract way. The song can be interpreted in many ways, I feel the song is related to corporations and modern media.
Next on the album is the song ‘Little By Little.‘ Right away Radiohead starts this song on the off beat just to throw you off. If you don’t adjust you can actually hear the song off by a few beats which can be interesting. Thom somehow manages to be playing guitar off time throughout most of the song which sounds surprisingly right with the rhythm that is created by Phil. The rhythm in this song is full of intricate syncopation almost beyond understanding. Thom sings about how evil slowly grabs hold of us ‘little by little.’ In the middle of the song, there is one of those Radiohead moments where Thom and the band get very real with you. Most of the rhythm drops out and Thom reminds you that how your ‘obligations, complications, and a job that’s killing you’ is eroding away at your humanity. This song is very beautiful and raw.
Feral‘ might be Radiohead’s most experimental song since ‘Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors.’ It is honestly the perfect interlude for ‘The King of Limbs,’ though. Thom sings lyrics under his breath into a synth and his loop pedal. The rhythm is this song is very organic and thus ‘feral.’ It is very easy to get lost in the rhythm as the song progresses. There are constant pings around the stereo channel against a mulched up drum pattern that sounds sharper than glass. Towards the middle, Colin comes in with a very sub heavy bass synth riff that gets louder and louder. Phil plays little fills slightly out of time to add movement to the repetitive beat. Seeing this song live at Osheaga Music Festival changed my view entirely. This is a very precise jam.
The next song, ‘Lotus Flower,’  was not released as a single, however, reached the top of charts everywhere and was nominated for a Grammy. This song is the most accessible on ‘The King of Limbs’ in my opinion. ‘Lotus Flower’ is propelled forward by a synth bass line, and syncopated 4/4 drums while someone claps in 5/8. Overall, the atmosphere of the song is very confident; makes you want to dance like how Thom dances in the music video. Thom seems to sing about transcendence, self-effacement, and the magic of losing yourself in music and the senses. He uses nature and the moon all as metaphors through beautiful writing techniques. This is a song Thom wrote for his Radiohead fans, it seems to be how he feels about having so many devoted fans. Obviously, though it is very open to interpretation due to Thom’s abstract lyrics.
The last three songs on ‘The King of Limbs’ slow the album’s flow right down. The first of the slower songs on the album is ‘Codex.’ It borrows a similar song structure to one of my favorite Radiohead songs ‘Pyramid Song.’ Codex is a lot more organic and less tragic in comparison and feels like a breath of fresh air on The King of Limb’s track list. The song is composed of dreary flanged piano chords, bittersweet bugle horns, and Yorke at his most evocative. Thom’s lyrics are very abstract yet obvious; singing about standing on a pier at a clear, serene lake. Subtle changes between ‘sleight of hand” and ‘slide your hand’ shows that the narrator might have resolved what was haunting him. The part with the bugle horns gives me the shivers as it feels like the golden ratio of the album.
Second to last on the album is the song ‘Give Up The Ghost.‘ This song took a little while to really grow on me. Thom plays an open D acoustic guitar progression while tapping his hand percussively on the guitar to a beat. He sings ‘Don’t haunt me, don’t hurt me’ through a loop pedal in a very pleasant melody. The loops start to lose it’s prominence as it is repeated over and over. Throughout the song, Thom adds ‘Into your arms’ into the loop adding variances of the line as the song progresses. The song seems to be about attempting to forget about the past, which is difficult as our experiences become part of who we are. At the end, Thom says ‘I think I should give up the ghost’ as an explosion of all of his vocal loops hit you at once and Thom adds a fourth voice that becomes very comforting.
The finale to the short yet deep and complex album ‘The King of Limbs’ is ‘Separator.‘ Radiohead is definitely known for their amazing album closers and this song is no exception. Separator is very clearly about a dream and it evokes a dream-like feeling within you; it is one of the most hopeful and happy sounding Radiohead songs. Once again you are hit with an infectious repetitive rhythm played on the drums by Phil. There are subtle Atmospheric warbles in the left and right channel through the song as Thom sings about stumbling upon something amazing. One of my favorite moments on ‘The King of Limbs’ is when the guitars come in when Thom says ‘I fell open’ after vocal loops fall into space. These are some of the most beautiful guitar melody’s I have ever heard. It makes me feel so nostalgic and hopeful for the future to come. Reverb and delay-drenched guitars come in towards the end as Thom pleads to be woken up. It is a very pretty song that wraps up the whole album beautifully.
Overall ‘The King of Limbs’ is definitely one of my favorite Radiohead albums; there is nothing like it. I enjoy how the album seems to have a cyclical nature to it and the album starts with end with ‘Separator’ where Thom wishes to wake up and start with ‘Bloom’ which feels like an awakening. I have a feeling this album will go down as one of Radiohead’s most important. It is a lot to digest on first listen but if you actually give it time and listen to it at the right moment you will become enveloped in its dense rhythms and dreary ballads.



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