Thom Yorke, ‘Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes’ – Album Review
Webster's New World Dictionary defines the word 'esoteric' as "intended for or understood by only a chosen few." And that might be the most efficient, succinct way to review Radiohead singer Thom Yorke's second solo album, 'Tomorrow's Modern Boxes.' The chosen few in this case would be Yorke's die-hard fans, and maybe people who enjoy putting a sizable amount of effort into listening to music.
That's not to say that 'Tomorrow's Modern Boxes' is unlistenable, or even that it's not good. Just know going in that there isn't much in the way of catchy hooks or anything else that will help you through the album. Instead, you'll find sleepy, sparse production that could serve to put your brain in a delta-wave state. That is, for those non-brain scientists out there, the state most closely associated with deep sleep.
You'd be forgiven for thinking so far that this is a negative review of 'Tomorrow's Modern Boxes,' but such is not the case. The single, 'A Brain in a Bottle,' is apt to draw fans back for repeated listens. And the album as a whole works as an immersive experience. Headphones and a comfortable chair are a must when taking this in.
Much of the music here is understated, which is nothing new to Radiohead fans who've stuck with the band through 'Amnesiac' and 'In Rainbows.' This is apparent in tracks like 'Guess Again!,' which is propelled along with understated kicks and a static-snap snare, and 'Interference,' with its sea of synthesizers and modulated swells.
Everything on 'Tomorrow's Modern Boxes' seems to exist wholly in a virtual state, with nothing there originating from the tangible -- read: analog -- world. Even Yorke's dreamy vocals sound like they came from a computer that's just awakened to consciousness. The words bubble up through the mix like bits of superheated gas breaking through thick lava.
This originates in how Yorke's melodies are mixed with the rest of the music. His voice often sounds more like another instrument than like a physical human element. If the singing did originate from a newly-awakened computer, its mood would've been toying with the concept of emotions, gliding from playfulness in 'The Mother Lode' to melancholy in 'Guess Again!'
At the end of the day, 'Tomorrow's Modern Boxes' isn't for everyone. Many people, including a lot of Radiohead fans, probably won't be impressed. But that's OK, because the band is still alive and kicking, with a new album in the works even as you read this. For those who enjoy the sounds of a future made tired and sleepy from information overload, though, 'Tomorrow's Modern Boxes' is well worth the price of admission.