Review: The King of Limbs (Radiohead)

“I think I’ve had my fill… / In your arms / (Don’t hurt me…) / (Don’t hurt me…) ”

I seriously doubt that you are likely too clueless about Radiohead if you are reading this review right now; but, just in case, we’re talking about one of the most influential bands of our time here. Radiohead has been churning out opus after magnum opus for the past twenty-five years, including 2007’s brilliant musical masterpiece In Rainbows.

But now, it seems the UK-based quintet has hit a bit of a speed-bump.

The King of Limbs, the band’s second self-released album after leaving EMI Records a few years ago, is not quite a magnum opus.

Granted, there are some brilliant moments here, but there are also some simply awkward moments, too. Brilliantly speaking, “Morning Mr. Magpie,” “Little by Little,” and “Codex” boast mind-bending time signatures, novel guitar part components, and some potent melodies to boot. Additional highlight “Lotus Flower” is the only composition that even vaguely resembles the sound/style of the In Rainbows era, though its groove is noticeably more stylized and ambient. In the awkward department, we’re looking at mainly “Bloom” and “Feral,” two vocally-based songs with the most unorthodox harmony possibly ever in the current Radiohead catalogue. And while this sounds kind of “neat,” per say, it is actually not entirely appetizing and is hardly accessible.

Now, some fans could likely gloss over the “awkward” in favor of the “brilliant,” and that is certainly one way to look at it.

But we’re also looking at a mere eight songs. I would understand ten, or perhaps nine. But eight? An eight-song set says, “After four years, this is all we can come up with for our religiously faithful fans. Eight experimental whatever’s.” And the band is still treating this eight-song release as if it were a full album, charging $9 for MP3’s and $14 for the vinyl, which I find a bit much. But I digress..

Though The King of Limbs is definitely dissatisfying in some areas, the worst Radiohead album is still better than most other bands’ greatest releases, though this is really the only defense that can be given in Radiohead’s favor at this point. Perhaps Radiohead has more in store for the 2011 year. One can only hope.

82% / B-  ♭

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Review: Meyrin Fields – EP

To begin with, I consider myself to be a huge Shins fan, but not really a huge Broken Bells fan. Sure, the strange pairing of Shins leader James Mercer and Gnarls Barkley alum Danger Mouse (jointly known as Broken Bells) resulted in a few decent compositions on the duo’s self-titled debut release from last year, but the substance just wasn’t quite to the Shins’ catalogue level.

And on this EP, it’s even less satisfying than on the debut album, putting it somewhere between “meh +” and “average.”

The only worthwhile track here on this follow-up EP is the title track, “Meyrin Fields.” It’s still not that great, though.

Basically, even if you are thinking that Broken Bells is somehow your favorite band or current obsession (or something of the like), this is still really not that interesting. For an EP clocking in at around eleven-and-a-half minutes, this is pretty boring, and stagnant methodology becomes blatant within the first few minutes—  Dress Mercer’s voice in chorus, throw in some scratchy percussive sound bites to make everything very “electronic,” and then produce it in a completely clean, modern fashion. Plus, we’re technically looking at a foursome of B-sides, which is less-than-encouraging in its own right.

Though it is not the worst thing you could spend your money on, I’d suggest a “pass” here.

73% / C-   ☂

Review: Belong (The Pains of Being Pure at Heart)

Through the grit of fuzz and the heat of nostalgic fervency, a strand of simple (yet substantial) melody graciously coats a set of poignant lyrics in the presence of rich synth. The drums thunder with focused and forceful dynamic and the bass sinks into its low frequency with a satisfied sigh.

This, dear reader, is sound of Belong, the second full-length release from lo-fi, shoegaze kings The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.

Their first, self-titled album introduced us to ten memorable melodies and their ten sets of humourous and quirky (and sometimes racy) lyrics— All accented with sound remnants of classic indie acts such as The Smiths and My Bloody Valentine. Pop gems like “Come Saturday,” “Young Adult Friction,” and “Everything with You” quickly built and solidified the group’s budding sound and stature in the messy world of indie pop/rock.

Belong finds our beloved Pains in a bigger and more accessible atmosphere. Percussionist Kurt Feldman is guided by the legendary producer Flood in the anthemic expansion of the drums, and Alex Naidus’s always-faithful bass matches this progression with a melodic interpretation of the low end of things. Especially on early album track “The Body,” Feldman and Naidus’s rhythm section really flows together and eventually launches the already full and dreamy arrangement into an explosion of energetic bliss.

Song structures are simple enough (and in one case, too simple; the predictable execution of the I, V, vi, IV chord progression in “My Terrible Friend” is indeed disappointing), but leaders Kip Berman and Peggy Wang vary things up appropriately with distinct vocal melodies and starry-eyed synth movements, respectively. The two masterfully blend their talents in nearly all of the tunes, but “Even in Dreams,” “Strange,” and “My Terrible Friend” are the best showcases of their vocal/guitar/synth conglomeration.

Lyrics are also intriguing in the world of Belong. In “Anne with an E,” Berman tells a rueful tale of adolescent love-making and heart-breaking, pillowing airy, U2-esque guitar proclamations with lyrical phrases like—

“We’ll call in sick tomorrow and shake ’til we can’t speak,
And know it won’t get better, but still you wanna see
Our bodies fall apart and lose the will to breathe,
And fall asleep forever in perfect harmony.”

In lead single “Heart in Your Heartbreak,” Berman’s lyrics shift smoothly from lucid and nostalgic to clever and learned. Smart expressions like, “She was the ‘heart’ in your ‘heartbreak’ / She was the ‘miss’ in your ‘mistake,'” and “She was the tear in a rainstorm / She was the promise that you would’ve sworn” bring an already great tune to a level of unmistakeable genius and shoegaze-tinted charm.

In conclusion, these ten new songs reveal a blossoming, confident band with plenty of outstanding musical ideas, effortlessly finding their groove, advancing towards a common, creative goal. Belong is a trophy record, one of 2011’s best, and possibly even better than the Pains’ debut LP.

A record like this indubitably belongs in your record collection (pun intended).

83% / B+  ☆

(Purchase: iTunes / Amazon / Slumberland Records [CD/LP])