Listen In: Thom Yorke’s surprise album yields few surprises

Published 6:23 pm Saturday, October 4, 2014

Thom Yorke’s second solo album, “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes,” can be summed up in one word: consistent.

Yorke released the album by surprise Sept. 26, but there’s not much else surprising about the album or its style.

Let’s get one thing out of the way, it is not a Radiohead album, nor does it sound like it should be. Really, it feels more like a treat directly to his fans.

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Yorke, the lead singer of Radiohead, ignited the band’s avid fan base in late September when he started posting mysterious and vague images on his Twitter account.

The chief culprit, an image of an untitled white record playing on a turntable, sparked rumors that Radiohead was releasing a surprise album, which ultimately proved untrue.

Instead, fans got “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes,” an album that’s a natural next step in Yorke’s progression, both with Radiohead and on his own.

When compared to Radiohead’s 2011 album “King of Limbs” and 2013’s “Amok” — Yorke’s first release with his side band Atoms for Peace — “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes” falls perfectly on Yorke’s timeline.

Yorke returns to a more electronic style of “Amok” and “The Eraser,” his first solo album released in 2006. Yorke has long been a fan of Flying Lotus, and the electronic producer’s music seemed to influence Radiohead on “The King of Limbs.” Yorke takes another step toward that style here, releasing his most consist solo collection of electronic, beat-driven music.

The album starts on a wave of driving base and drum beats on “A Brain In A Bottle” and continues over haunting pianos of “Guess Again!”

Like most of his work, the songs play like Yorke’s fears and paranoia’s coiled together and released in music.

At times, “The Eraser” felt like Radiohead songs without the rest of the band. That’s not the case here. While less flashy than Yorke’s previous non-Radiohead material, the album proves consistent with fewer obvious highs and lows.

Songs like “Truth Ray” and “Nose Grows Some” seems to hint at Yorke’s environmental beliefs, as he’s long been a supporter of environmental causes.

One standout is “There’s No Ice (For My Drink),” a feverish and haunting instrumental with broken samplings of Yorke’s voice.

Like with his previous releases, Yorke tried to make a statement in this release.

It’s the first album to be released via BitTorrent’s “pay-gate” function, but even that didn’t seem remotely unnatural for Yorke.

In 2006, Yorke and Radiohead released “In Rainbow” and allowed fans to pay whatever price they wanted. More recently, Yorke pulled “Amok” and his solo albums from Spotify, arguing the online streaming service wasn’t properly reimbursing artists for their music.

BitTorrent is just another way for artists to get music directly to consumers without studios interceding and upping the price. Hence, the album sold for $6 on BitTorrent.

Even though the album was a surprise, it still felt natural that Yorke would release it on his own terms at his own time.

Ultimately, “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes” plays like an album direct to his fans, and the album is sure to please them.