Thom Yorke Tomorrow's Modern Boxes Self-released via BitTorrent
By now the ruminations of the middle-man removal exhorted by messieurs Yorke and Godrich are likely to have been poured over to distraction. Yet in a month where anyone in breathing distance of a product prefixed with an i has had U2’s ghastly new album force fed to them, the method employed in getting Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes onto Crack’s product prefixed with i felt like light relief. With the idiot-proof guidelines for obtaining the record, there resides a continued debate as to how to essentially monetise a paperless industry while trying your utmost not to line the pockets of anyone whose record is Radio 1 A-playlisted.
Paying roughly three quid for a Thom Yorke album via a torrent site didn’t exactly feel like a financial burden, and unlike those journalists irked by Yorke’s insistence to release his music through alternative platforms, this method felt like one of the most compelling arguments to date in the attempt of “bypassing the self-elected gatekeepers”.
There are inert problems that aren’t totally confined to your level of technology savviness in acquiring the music. Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is essentially Yorke’s most difficult work to date. The sparsity across all its facets, from the artwork, to the short running time, to the oft limpness of the music places it in a category of experimentalism that can only be embraced in a frame of mind that requires real focus. Unlike previous solo outing The Eraser, with all its political foil and genuinely bite, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is the sound of Yorke fully cocooned in his world of electronics, but how this has played out is of genuine surprise considering his collaborations in recent years with Modeselektor, Burial and Four Tet.
First track Brain In A Bottle is a lightweight track that separates the sound out wonderfully in its minimalism, with the fragility of the production the main feature on display in an otherwise non-descript opener. Yorke’s vocals have never sounded so soft, and while it’s perfectly palatable on the ear, it doesn’t have you reaching for the phone to start barking to your mate at what you’ve just heard at the start of the new Thom Yorke record. Guess Again! invokes Pyramid Song with a skuzzy, clappy beat and none of the dramatics. Again, this does absolutely nothing to offend, but then nothing to invoke either.
Interference genuinely feels like ambient filler, and while Thom repeats “you don’t have the right to interfere”, you can’t help thinking some interference might be the preferable option. The Mother Lode is the album’s undoubted high-point, with a skippy two-step beat and the layered ethereal vocal sitting underneath alongside a hypnotic bassline. But just when you think we’re getting somewhere, we’re brought straight back to earth with Truth Ray, a truly dreary piece of work by anyone’s standards with the plodding beat, soft vocals and synth pulses that attempt naked expression, but just leave a real vacuum – the kind of track that resonates emphatically with the bleakness of the artwork.
The final three tracks come as a full composition and feel inventive. There Is No Ice (For My Drink) starts with a techno beat and a warped vocal that sounds like it’s being played backwards and features a touch of the signal pulses so akin with Radioactivity by Kraftwerk. The track’s movement is superb and melds into the detuned for the following track Pink Section’s dystopian warbling and then the album’s finale, Nose Grows Some, a poignant tear-inducer of a track lingering around the outer reaches of Kid A’s less immediate moments.
To call Yorke’s foray into outsider electronica understated is an understatement. Luckily for him, he fosters the kind of devotion that will see this record pored over through high end speaker equipment, where its nuances might make more of an impression. The impetuous to invent something new remains, and seeing Yorke explore his electronic impulses has been a pleasure, but in this case a sedate Yorke rather than a Thom Yorke with the fire that characterises much of his rhetoric isn’t what anyone needed – we all knew he did a good turn in morose anyway.