Its most successful examples retain Radiohead DNA, reconstituted into new forms.
Chris Power 2011-10-03
It’s fitting that The King of Limbs is the first Radiohead album to receive the full-length remix treatment. It’s their first album since 2000’s Kid A to swing away from traditional rock techniques, seamlessly incorporating electronic music elements at the heart of the songwriting. Where much of Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows seems to have originated on guitar or piano before taking on additional digital light and shade, the loops, samples and textures of The King of Limbs are integral parts of the whole.
It’s also the album that most blatantly foregrounds the extraordinary power and flexibility of Radiohead’s rhythm section, and especially Phil Selway’s virtuoso drumming. So great is the impression it leaves that when Modeselektor roll out a standard thumping kick drum, on Good Evening Mrs Magpie, disappointment inevitably results. Despite some other lacklustre inclusions (SBTRKT’s vocal garage take on Lotus Flower, Pearson Sound’s unremarkable 808 reconfiguration of Morning Mr Magpie) , invention just about has the upper hand on this 19-track double album, which compiles tracks originally released on limited-edition 12-inches between July and September.
Modeselektor – lauded in electronic music circles, perhaps previously unknown to a fair proportion of Radiohead fans – are among the better-known names represented here, many of whom reflect the ear for the electronic underground long displayed by the playlists Thom Yorke posts on the band’s blog, Dead Air Space. Other more widely known names include Four Tet, Caribou and Jamie xx. The first of these, who supplied a superb remix of Atoms for Peace, from Thom Yorke’s solo album The Eraser, invests Separator with a muffled beat that moves at a half-speed lurch, cunningly clumsy and euphoric all at once. Manchester’s Illum Sphere shifts the desolate Codex into a more upbeat register, but transmits melancholy via a ringing, recurrent two-note synth stab. Berlin producer Shed, whose own work shifts skilfully between genres, brings an authentic techno mentality to his remix, stripping down Little by Little to build a grainy rhythmic grid from a handful of its original elements. Less complex but still compelling, Blawan reconfigures Bloom (the most popular track among the remixers, featuring five times here) as a relentless, juddering slab of dubstep-inflected techno, the song boiled down to a series of protracted, growling chords pinned beneath an oppressive beat. Caribou swaps the knotty rattle of Little by Little for an airy harp riff set above a crisp breakbeat and metronomic bass pulse, fragments of Yorke’s treated vocal passing back and forth above the track.
Perhaps best of all is Nathan Fake’s take on Morning Mr Magpie, where mournful pads, organ-like groans of modulated guitar and a rapid-fire percussive shuffle develop into psychedelic grandeur. It highlights what’s most appealing about this remix package: its most successful examples retain some Radiohead DNA, but reconstituted into a new form. That’s fitting testament to a band that remains eager to avoid repeating themselves.