Thom Yorke’s surprise solo album is nothing new – but it’s still worth your time

Here’s the thing: I’m a card-carrying Radiohead fan. I was actually, until shockingly recently, a band-carrying fan, when in a controlled bout of ‘maturity’ I decided to slice off the plastic entrance band to a Radiohead gig in Manchester that had been one of a number of mementos protecting my wrist against skin cancer since 2007. Given how instrumental some Radiohead tracks have been in punctuating and defining my upbringing, spinning any number of tunes takes me back to a certain point in my life. ‘Nude’ was the simultaneous soundtrack to my fantasy adolescence (Skins) and my real adolescence (not Skins). One of the first songs that I learned to play on the guitar was ‘Karma Police’. And I spent at least 6 consecutive evenings learning to dance like Thom Yorke does in the video to ‘Lotus Flower’ – arms up, body moving, feet rooted – for, like, aspirational reasons.

Unlike some, I’m also a huge fan of both the solo stuff that Yorke has done and the electronic turns that Radiohead and Atoms for Peace (a spin-off project) have taken. I mean, for sure, my favourite bit from Yorke’s 2006 solo album ‘The Eraser’ is an acoustic version of ‘The Clock’ that Yorke played live on The Henry Rollins show – an impossible combination of soaring vocals, manic guitar rhythms and some trademark Yorke head-shakin’ – but you’d be a fool not to see the beauty in tracks like ‘The Eraser’ and ‘Harrowdown Hill’, synth pad or no synth pad.

So yeah – hands in the air, context established – I’m kinda into the idea of a new Thom Yorke album. 8 tracks dropping out of nowhere, taking the fanbase by storm, complete with a new twitchy music video? I’m there. Instantly. Sign me up, little man.

But the preachy distribution side of it all? Less into that.

The album was released via bitTorrent alongside a concise message about distribution and creativity:

As an experiment we are using a new version of BitTorrent to distribute a new Thom Yorke record. The new Torrent files have a pay gate to access a bundle of files..

The files can be anything, but in this case is an ‘album’.

It’s an experiment to see if the mechanics of the system are something that the general public can get its head around …

If it works well it could be an effective way of handing some control of internet commerce back to people who are creating the work.

Enabling those people who make either music, video or any other kind of digital content to sell it themselves.

Bypassing the self elected gate-keepers.

If it works anyone can do this exactly as we have done.

The torrent mechanism does not require any server uploading or hosting costs or ‘cloud’ malarkey.

It’s a self-contained embeddable shop front…

The network not only carries the traffic, it also hosts the file. The file is in the network.

Oh yes and it’s called

Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes.

I understand that it’s beyond frustrating for artists to spend months/years crafting an album, only for it either to be released on Spotify with a return of £0.003 per song play, or straight up stolen via torrent clients. But have Thom and co. not heard of Bandcamp? The customisable platform that has been in operation since 2008, offering new and established artists the opportunity to release music for free or with flexible prices? Sure, artists have to pay a small amount of commission to the site – an initial 15%, dropping to 10% after $5000 worth of sales – but in return they get their own microsite, flexible pricing and rewards systems, and access to a thriving community that goes some way towards restoring that lost ‘record store’ culture. In short, the mechanisms for challenging music piracy already exist. The answer to music theft is not a series of isolated bundles; it’s getting behind a sustainable and engaging online community.

Anyway, as to the album itself – if you like the first track, you’ll like the rest. That’s as far as my review goes. This is nothing breathtaking, either on the distribution or the production sides. ‘A Brain In A Bottle’ is a veritable foot-tapper, ‘Interference’ is ballady and downbeat, and ‘Nose Grows Some’ sounds like something written to be played at the tail-end of one of these trendy, invite-only, don’t-dance-or-look-like-you’re-having-a-good-time-because-you’ll-ruin-the-mood kinda shindigs that Yorke has been frequenting recently:

I loved them, but others won’t. This set of 8 tracks isn’t going to sway you in any direction if you hated this. But — if you want to put Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes on and spend 40 minutes in a darkened room pretending that you’re the kind of person that is so often invited to clubs that are off the radar because people smoke cigarettes inside that you’re going to have to give tonight a miss and just delve into that eighth that you nonchalantly have on hand, it’s worth forking up the $6.

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