Thom Yorke’s mysterious new album released last month has only found its way to me now because I finally figured out how to get it. It’s the same old trouble for the older fans, navigating the computer easily. The record is not available in stores, as in it’s not supplied by a distributor as such, not on Spotify, not on CD and is only available digitally through BitTorrent. (See link below). This service allows you to download a video and the single as audio for free and then if you want to buy the whole album, you can download it for a nominal fee. (I used Paypal). It cost just $6 (about £3.75) but involved me pressing an awful lot of buttons and hoping for the best. I had to download something called Vuze so I could download the record and with limited computer knowledge I did get there in the end, although I have somehow changed my default browser in the process. As usual with Thom Yorke, the process has as much impact as the record itself and his approach may interest some more than his music, but if you like his music then this album is truly interesting. I have to add that it took me a while to figure out how to play the album at all and when I did finally figure it out, it took me a while to realise that the BitTorrent wouldn’t let me play the album as a whole, only track by track. I realised later that I had to download it to itunes from BitTorrent before I could play the whole album without having to manually play each track.
So the album itself, starts with a video of the single (whatever that means anymore – let’s call it by the more often used term of, lead track). The video of A Brain In A Bottle has Yorke in some shattered, jumpy video looking like an alchoholic boxer complete with boxing gloves and red around the nose. For me, I don’t want to see him – I much prefer hearing what he does, the image is a distraction but I guess it’s the image he sells to the world that has built him into an appealing modern hero. I see him more as a simple exploratory sonic adventurer with a melodic voice, and there is lots of that on this album. Lyrically I can’t really hear what he’s saying but I’m sure it’s important! (Ha Ha). Yorke has aired strong views about the environment, and seems to be the modern spokesman for the cold loneliness of society.
It seems pointless to go through the tracks one by one but I can say that if you don’t like this kind of thing it will all sound the same to you, electronic beats and falsetto – that’s not how I see it. To me it is cleverly constructed, interesting melodically with lovely warm electronic tones and interesting sounds. The closest similarity I can find should I need to, is the first two Roxy Music albums. The third track, Interference could surely have come off their either 1972 debut or the follow up For Your Pleasure from 1973 with its Ferryesque melody and Enoesque (Via Kraut Rock) synths. It’s like anyone that’s interesting these days finds themselves in early seventies Germany where other influences for this record are definitely seeded. (To think that when I saw CAN live in Liverpool, Thom Yorke was just six years old). You can add a new beat to these innovators from the past but essentially between the skippy drumming on King Crimson’s In The Court Of the Crismson King, Kraftwerk, Cluster and CAN you have your mould. I personally find this music accessible and easy on the ear, easy to like and not at all difficult to comprehend, follow or understand in any way, because to me it’s my underground teenage years and I never shook it off.
It’s beautifully recorded and one must really wonder how the album isn’t credited as Nigel Godrich and Thom Yorke, like Burnt Friedman and Jaki Liebezeit, having said that Godrich probably doesn’t want it, content with his background role, away from the spotlight. Neither of them court publicity and one presumes that a preference for being left alone in the studio is high on their agenda, but Yorke has an obvious interest in the visual medium as well and that’s simply not Godrich’s thing. As far as selling the experiment using BitTorrent they apparently had 100,000 downloads in the first 24 hours and a million in the first week. At $6 a download, presuming that people did actually buy the entire record, they made a lot of money in the last few weeks with little costs beyond themselves and their studio that they surely must own (and if not a recording budget will always be affordable for people that can generate cash like these guys can).
Of course to most of the million people that downloaded this record it isn’t mysterious at all its how things are done these days and this model gives an a artist the opportunity to sell records directly to fans. For me I have the In Deep Music Archive website that does just that, except at this point my music is free to download and vinyl (with CD in the case of MOAT) is available to buy for those who wish to have the physical thing. Yorke has also made this album available physically with a link to a site to buy the record on vinyl. But of course there isn’t a million people interested in what I am doing! Ha Ha! But to sum up, this album is definitely better than the short excerpts I have read from reviews and I will be listening to its intriguing soundscapes and beats for a long time to come.