There’s something rather wonderful about Thom Yorke’s ongoing crusade to hurl pointed twigs into the whirring spokes of the music industry.
Released through file-sharing service BitTorrent, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is the next step along a road that has seen the Radiohead frontman give his own band’s music away for free while noisily condemning Spotify for their risible royalty rates. One suspects that Yorke’s next move may be to release an EP that can only be accessed by cracking open Bono’s skull and photographing binary code that has been scrawled on the Irishman’s brain by the cantankerous indie icon’s own army of militant nanobots.
Ultimately, of course, the means of distribution matters little to those of us who simply want to hear the music. Regardless of context, Yorke’s second solo album adds weight to the notion that for all his curmudgeonly awkwardness, he is continuing to make endlessly fascinating and brave records.
Once again rooted firmly in the esoteric electronica that has informed Radiohead’s wilder moments in recent times, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes sounds like an instinctive and natural product of years spent listening to everything from Kraftwerk and Faust to dubstep subversives Burial and Hecq. The amorphous, aquatic drift of A Brain In A Bottle makes it plain from the offset that anyone hoping for a more traditional approach will be left disappointed, but in terms of the adventurous and the progressive, rewards are plentiful.
The fractured beats and cyclical keyboard drones of Guess Again! take Yorke into territory he’s occupied before, but there is an uneasiness creaking beneath the song’s skin that points to a more brittle vision than anything Radiohead would produce. Similarly, Interference recalls any number of atonal ’head ballads, while also giving off a strong sense of myopic introspection. The Mother Lode is the finest thing here. With shades of Orbital’s serene pulse, underpinned by a skittering Burial-esque beat, it’s actually a tremendously concise piece of songwriting, but one clothed in liberated weirdness.
The second half of the album follows a similar pattern, with disorientating ambience and the persistent throb of some spectral drum machine enshrouding what are, in essence, some very sweet and refined melodies.
Despite his admirable refusal to make things easy for anyone, Thom Yorke remains a singer and songwriter at heart and even when swirling around amid the abstruse electro palpitations of There Is No Ice (For My Drink), he still sounds driven by a desire to communicate big ideas and push music into the future.