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Sonic Satori – Thom Yorke Brings it on Tomorrow's Modern Boxes

11-20-2014 | By Michael Mercer | Issue 76


The weight of expectations must be huge for Thom Yorke. I mean, not only is he the front-man for Radiohead, but he's got deep commitments musically in a couple of different areas at once. His side projects: The freshmen solo LP Eraser, has garnered critical acclaim world-wide. Atoms for Peace; his band with Red Hot Chilly Peppers Flea created one of my favorite LPs of 2013: Amok. There's something about Tomorrow's Modern Boxes that seemingly expresses Yorke's journey through these other albums and the Radiohead experience. Eraser sounded like Radiohead at its core, but it also gave way for Yorke's self-expression, and it made sense for it to still sound like Radiohead in a way: Yorke's a solid song-writer. His works' been going through these magnificent transitions—from rhythmic to a deeper sort of atmospheric and even some world music smatterings. Plus, the limited amount of releases combined with the time passed between them show what time's been doing for the artist. He also never rushed, not since Eraser. All of this has seemingly aided Yorke in creating pretty amazing and interesting music. Because the sad truth is: This man could probably just regurgitate Radiohead-like noise on his own LPs and they would sell. But Yorke is an artist, and if that statement comes off as bourgeois horseshit, unfortunately there's nothing I can do to assure you that I mean it in the best possible sense.

Thom Yorke Tomorrow's Modern Boxes

I say artist for many reasons, one of them is because Yorke seems to challenge himself musically the more material he releases. However, because there is familiarity, a touch of Radiohead here and there—some critics have said most of his music outside the group is nothing but "Radiohead-light". I think this shows an unwillingness on the part of those critics to try and see/hear between the lines. Sure, it sounds like a Radiohead project at times! Guess what, Thom Yorke is the damn lead singer and song-writer for the band! Makes sense that his other work would carry threads from his bread-n-butter right? So, moving on: I absolutely love the wide-open percussion throughout this album. It smacks around the soundstage from "A Brain in a Bottle" to "Nose Grows Some"—the speed, mood, and placement changing constantly. While there are common threads on Tomorrow's Modern Boxes the variety of fresh music and sounds are woven into the sonic mesh of the record. From the forward, slightly aggressive hits and pounds in the opener, to the calm, hit-hatty light-percussive vibe of "Nose Grows Some", there is always something goin' on compositionally to keep your attention. This is mellow music for the listener that want's to chill, but not fall asleep.

Eraser was a bit dynamically thinner in its design. Yorkes' learned how to write complex music without calling attention to its complexness! His arrangements, full-bodied works that sound cohesive enough where the musical presentation is ostensibly minimal. The elements all complement each other, so as opposed to a busy-sounding record, the music blends well—providing a wonderfully fresh and mellow mood throughout. Yorke's changes and breakdowns are also subtle, but smartly executed. He does a splendid job of maintaining flow throughout the whole album. Not an easy musical feat, but Yorke seems to have this all on lock. He's been dialing in his sound for years. Whatever he's been doing—he needs to keep it up! I look forward to every release from Yorke (or any projects associated with him) with great anticipation. Every time he's delivered. There aren't a lot of performers, especially song-writers, that I can make that same claim for. It sounds like all the time on the road during the past eight years (Eraser dropped in 2006) have been a great source on inspiration for Yorke.

"A Brain in a Bottle" kicks this masterpiece off with a funky, grimy, crazily panning bass line that supports the sudden impactful percussive elements that frame the tune. Yorke lets us know he likes to get down and funky. He's been DJ-ing around the world for years now. The grooves clearly got a firm hold on him, or, perhaps, it's more accurate to say he's got a firm grip on the groove. The first track pounds, ebbs, springs back, and flows forward. All of that while Yoke's vocals hover, dead center, with more vocal samples streaking across, and meandering in and around the velvety synths that make up that dirty bass line. This track is like that woolen sweater you've got in the closet that's comfortable no matter what mood you're in. It wraps itself around you, and you feel cozy. That's the vibe here, though there is a fair amount of slaps, echos, pings, and drum taps to keep your attention. I live for this sort of stuff. It doesn't hit me over the head, and it doesn't bore me either. I especially enjoyed the rush of "The Mother Lode". Hey, with a song-title like that, how can you go wrong? There is this pulsing downbeat again, and the other percussion are more focused on this track, bringing the velocity of the downbeat to the surface. That beat switches into a nasty acid bass line. It's wicked, and infective. This is the kinda track that I hit repeat on at least five or six times. The other tracks are equally seductive and textural. The tight bass drops, the atmospheric hovering synths that fill the space between the triggered sounds. Then there's the song titles: Take "There Is No Ice (For My Drink)" for example. I hear that title and I think of waiting at a bar with tons of people and a slow-moving bartender. Well, it's like a late-night underground tech-house chugger! It starts off with these bouncy synth pads, building up to something, with added percussion in the background. Then: Bang! All of a sudden the bass and kick drop and it's became drivy. I pictured myself on the dance floor with my wifey. Fists pumped...

I think Yorke hit it outta the park with Tomorrow's Modern Boxes. It's dark and atmospheric like Radiohead, with more ambitious compositions. The album is varied despite the common thread mentioned earlier in this review. One minute I felt like I was floating on air, the next I'm being blasted by these huge kick-drum hits and nasty, thick bass lines. It's a fantastic audible journey, and I recommend it most highly to Radiohead fans and Yorke fans! I can't get enough, and I'll need to take a break from it soon or I'm gonna burn out on it. I don't want that to happen. That would suck. But check this LP out ASAP!