Thom Yorke’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes seemed to have been greeted with a lot of “meh” and “whatever” back when it magically appeared online as a download last year with little to no fanfare. It rose from the ether of the internet and got a whole lot of flack, really. “Sounds like The Eraser”, “Boring”, “More music for Thom to dance strangely to”. I’m no Radiohead/Thom Yorke apologist by any means, but the boo hoo crowd can just bugger off.
Yeah, I said bugger off(so sue me, United Kingdom.)
I’ll just come right out and say it, I love Thom Yorke’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. Not only that, but I think it even surpasses 2006s The Eraser. While I quite love that record, TMB seems to have lost the claustrophobic vibe of that dystopian classic. Yorke brought some of that loose, Fela Kuti/Can vibe that permeated the Atoms For Peace album Amok(another freakin’ masterpiece) into the creation of this electronic masterwork. There’s still plenty of the blippy, kinetic Flying Lotus thing on this record, but Thom’s voice has been given free reign to emote at will. The melancholy vibe of “Guess Again!” might not have been as urgent a few years back. Or it might not have been allowed to be so human; vulnerable, even. “Interference” feels like a break up song from some far off alternate reality. Like some Philip K. Dick character drinking himself into a cathartic alcoholic exorcism to forget all the hurt(I had no idea what a jackdaw was till I heard this song, btw.) I think if there’s a song that best resembles a listen into Yorke’s music laptop history it would be “The Mother Lode”. The piano loop, the lone electronic heartbeat, then the skitterish fruity loop comes in. It’s got all the hallmarks of Thom Yorke, circa 2006. “Truth Ray” feels like a funeral procession in space, and Yorke’s mournful vocal delivery pulls the downtrodden space traveler thing off wonderfully. “There Is No Ice(For My Drink)” is seven minutes of dance beats, wiggy vocals coming in and out of the mix, and hypnotic synth. Seems like a club banger only Mr. Yorke(and his pal Nigel Godrich) could make.
“Nose Grows Some” is the highlight here for me, though. So many folks find Thom’s electronic endeavors cold and detached, but even from the beginning with Radiohead’s Kid A I never felt that. There’s always been a beating heart underneath all the circuits, processors, and motherboards. A chunk of humanity that Mr. Yorke has always been searching for, even from the very beginning of things. An activist at heart, Yorke is always fighting for some greater cause. In doing that, regardless of whatever dystopian landscape one creates in the end we’re still looking for a glimmer of hope. “Nose Grows Some” shows that. It’s a beautifully melancholy piece of music.
Hell, who am I kidding? I’m a RadioYorke apologist. I don’t think the man can do wrong(musically, anyways.) I’ve been listening to Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes exclusively at home since Sunday. I just haven’t been able to take it off the platter. I’m giving it its due. Not just from me, but from all those folks that said it was “boring” and “more of the same”. I think it’s an absolute piece of understated brilliance. You can put that in your pipe and smoke it. Just do it outside, okay?