Release Date: Sep 26, 2014
Record label: N/A
Genre(s): Electronic, Electronica
To form a concrete opinion on a brand new Thom Yorke album in a single weekend—it sucks. More than any other artist in music’s mainstream, his albums reward over the long-haul. Radiohead’s Kid A baffled many at its release only to top most decade-end best-of lists. In Rainbows went from being some free (or whatever you paid for it) file that—to me, at least—felt kind of disposable on release day.
As if a week that has brought us Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems and the first Aphex Twin album in 13 years wasn’t quite enough, here comes Thom Yorke with another surprise digital release innovation. This time, he has dropped his second solo album via BitTorrent, a method of distribution so far more associated with piracy than with direct-to-the-fans sales. Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes can be downloaded for the modest, highly reasonable sum of $6.
Surprise: Thom Yorke has some more alienation he'd like to share with you. His latest laptop confessional is an unexpected rush-release, like every proper Yorke or Radiohead album of the past decade. Yet it demands deep listening, as Yorke's melancholic voice echoes through the hall of synth-mirrors he's built with producer Nigel Godrich. As on his solo debut, 2006's The Eraser, Yorke has written an album's worth of disarmingly straightforward pop ballads, dressed up with affectionately retro turn-of-the-century glitchcore effects.
Beginning with his 2006 solo debut, the forebodingly intimate The Eraser, Thom Yorke has succeeded at developing a distinguishable brand of oddly groovy insular electronica within his own easily defined sonic parameters. But separating his various side projects from the deep mythos of the Radiohead canon remains easier said than done. As the band evolved from early-'90s grunge to post-millennial frou-frou and beyond, the line between Yorke's solo material and Radiohead blurred to the point where, on 2011's polarizing The King of Limbs, many wondered if Yorke bothered telling the rest of the band to even show up.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Well Thom, you've done it again. In the pantheon of surprise-givers you're now firmly up there with Cilla Black and Jeremy Beadle. Esteemed company indeed. Picture the scene: it's 3:49pm on Friday afternoon, work is winding down, evening plans are ….
Perhaps the most nightmarish vision of the future that Thom Yorke and his popular backing band have shown us is one in which it’s impossible for anybody to release a record without the entire internet having a really boring discussion about the means by which it was released… I mean, when you boil it down, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes was released as a paid for download and the rest is basically semantics. So anyway, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is technically Yorke’s second solo album… though I recall that he was a bit funny about calling The Eraser a solo album (I'm pretty sure he tried to suggest the whole project was called 'The Eraser', including the artist name, though the cover art does not seem to bear that out). Is that relevant to anything? Well, maybe a little bit.
“We have to look for power sources here, and distribution networks we were never taught, routes of power our teachers never imagined, or were encouraged to avoid … we have to find meters whose scales are unknown in the world, draw our own schematics, getting feedback, making connections, reducing the error, trying to learn the real function … zeroing in on what incalculable plot?”– Thomas Pynchon What do we see when we look at Thom Yorke? Judging by the critical consensus that quickly congealed around Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, the answer is never far from reach: a traumatized genius, a social-justice antisocial, a visionary grouch, a peddler of alienation. I don’t usually care for criticism that looks to other music criticism to find a point, but in this case, the polite and jaded acclaim that has followed Yorke’s latest release might tell us something about the man and the world he sees. To answer the above question, above all, we see him, a detached and symbolic figure.
Much has already been said, and will continue to be said, about Thom Yorke's new solo outing's delivery method, as was the case for Radiohead's past two releases. Everything about the release of Tomorrow's Modern Boxes is very Thom Yorke: sudden surprise album drop, new means of distribution and big PR push with some sort of "manifesto" explaining said means of distribution. In this case, Yorke and long-standing collaborator and producer Nigel Godrich have partnered up with BitTorrent through their Bundles service to self-release Yorke's sophomore solo album.
It’s been three years since the last one, but you all remember the drill, right? The blog post/press release/i n t r i g u i n g l y-formatted tweet goes live, announcing that Thom Yorke will be releasing a new album approximately 20 minutes from now, using some revolutionary delivery method intended to serve as the mile-wide asteroid to an unsuspecting music industry. Social media promptly goes into meltdown as the opinion pieces proliferate, while critics race against time and each other to deliver the first – usually fawning – verdict. You have to hand it to him: the man knows how to launch an album to maximum chatter, but sometimes you long for him to do something genuinely unexpected, like, say, float a 30ft statue of himself down the Thames.
Historians debate the birth date of the modern world. Some argue it began with an event: the National Assembly outlawing the aristocracy in France overnight on August 3 and 4, 1789. Others point to more nebulous phenomena: the rise of humanism in the Renaissance. Or was it an idea such as the skepticism and self-declaration in Descartes’ cogito ergo sum? Almost all historians and cultural scholars place the birth of “the Modern” somewhere between the 16th and the 18th centuries.
“As an experiment…” began last week’s letter from Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich, announcing Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, Yorke’s first solo album in eight years. The “experiment” was designed to solve the same problem the music industry has been grappling with since the heyday of Shawn Fanning—how to convince the digital world to pay for music. And the means were, if not exactly original, unique for an artist of Yorke’s size: a payment system managed by a version of the file-sharing software BitTorrent, which relies on users sharing small pieces of a file in order to circulate a shared whole.
Last time Thom Yorke rewrote the rules concerning music distribution, in 2007, it yielded Radiohead’s magnificent In Rainbows album. His latest attempt to “bypass the self-elected gatekeepers” of the music industry sees his second solo album being sold exclusively via file-sharing system BitTorrent. Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes doesn’t match up to In Rainbows – it’s closer in style to 2006’s introspective The Eraser – partly because, delivery method aside, there’s little in the way of surprises: it’s all murmured vocals, glitchy electronic touches, subdued beats and, on Guess Again!, a haunting muffled piano motif.
In the weeks since Apple violently forced U2 down the headphone jack of every mobile device in the known universe, in rock’s first confirmed case of musical waterboarding, the Ché Guevaras of alternative music have started revolting against the manipulative online iStablishment. In what genuinely feels like a turning point in artist-to-fan distribution – to the benefit of both parties – they’ve started embracing the web’s stickier strands. By releasing the first paid-for bundle distributed via peer-to-peer service BitTorrent in order to bypass “the self-elected gatekeepers” of digital music (iTunes, Spotify and other such artist exploiters and Bono enforcers), Thom Yorke requires you to swashbuckle with the online pirates and risk contracting the most savage malware known to cyber-troll to access his second solo album, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes.
Thom Yorke dances. That’s what he does now. He dances through YouTube windows, through .gifs spangled across Tumblr, through well-lit arena stages. Even when he’s not performing any discernible moves, he’s dancing; look at the way his new video for “A Brain in a Bottle” was reported when it materialized last week along with the rest of Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes.
Thom Yorke is at the point in his career where anything he does is going to be viewed with the importance of a revelation from Mount Sinai. Thankfully, he's no charlatan and his musical messages usually bring more chaos and clarity into the lives of his listeners than most could ever hope to. But Tomorrow's Modern Boxes enters his apocrypha more easily than his canon.
On Friday, Radiohead frontman and dance enthusiast Thom Yorke snuck up on the Internet and delivered another sonic sucker punch. Not only did he announce that he had completed a new solo album called Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, but that said album was already available via BitTorrent. For a nominal fee of $6, hardcore fans were entitled to download a bundle that included all eight of the album’s tracks plus the unnerving music video for the track “A Brain in a Bottle”: This is not new for Yorke, whose band ushered in the modern era of stunt album releases back in 2007 when they dropped In Rainbows with no warning and allowed people to pay what they wanted to for it.
If it wasn’t already clear, ‘Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes’ is less an album, more an experiment. It’s a direct-to-fan method that claims to flip the rulebook, and reset the field. What’s inside this modern box is an afterthought. Every Thom Yorke release, from Radiohead’s pay-what-you-like ‘In Rainbows’ onwards (with the exception of Atoms For Peace’s ‘AMOK’) has been an attempt to deliver music in an instant, with zero faff and immediate gratification.
Thom Yorke described the distribution of Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes via a paid-for BitTorrent as an experiment to bypass the “self-elected gatekeepers” of the music industry, but coming hot on the heels of U2’s insidious release stunt – creeping into your bedroom and sliding their latest self-important rock opus into your iPhone while you slept – it sat slightly uncomfortably. Yorke’s long-standing beef with the music business is well documented (see Radiohead’s endearingly awkward 1998 documentary Meeting People Is Easy) but is this a much cleaner approach? Aligning one’s self with the machinery of the pirates, rather than with the labels and the record stores, might be more of a moral grey area than, say, U2’s tax affairs, but it leaves an odd taste regardless; the impression that Radiohead made it to the top, then yanked up the ladder. But let’s not linger too long on delivery.
Oh Lordy, it's a new Thom Yorke distribution strategy. This time you have to download BitTorrent to access the “self-contained embeddable shop front”, and you'll have to navigate that there “pay gate” to access “a bundle of files”. Call me old-fashioned, but I miss the days when massive stadium-sized bands just inserted their new records onto our computers like malware, or when Keane put out a single on a USB stick and dropped 1000s of them on Milton Keynes, killing five.
Disorientation, tolling piano chords, austerity, loops, malaise, bittersweet melody — yes, there’s a new album by Thom Yorke of Radiohead, “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes,” which he suddenly released on Friday on BitTorrent Bundle, through file-sharing software. The album costs $6, of which Mr. Yorke receives 90 percent. It’s the same percentage he’d get on the more established Bandcamp, but with less tech fanfare.
opinion byPETER TABAKIS < @ptbakis > Well, here it is. The mysterious white record Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich recently teased on Instagram is not a new Atoms for Peace LP, nor is it Radiohead’s ninth album (phew!). Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is instead a sequel to Yorke’s 2006 solo debutThe Eraser. This explains the general response to Friday’s announcement, a muted nice, rather than an ecstatic OMFG.
Its title and somewhat puzzling distribution method point obsessively toward the future, but neither’s enough to fool the discerning fan: Thom Yorke’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is a throwback to nearly a decade prior. Remember the summer of 2006? Radiohead found itself in the midst of a lengthy dry recording spell, then Yorke beat back the boredom of inactivity with a claustrophobic solo release. This time, the surprise is in the release mechanics: Yorke placed Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes online Friday via BitTorrent with little more than a cryptic tweet’s warning and heralded it as a means of “bypassing the self elected gate-keepers.
If you’ve been following the arc of Thom Yorke and Radiohead, it probably doesn’t need to be said that his latest solo album isn’t a back-to-basics affair. Put another way: No, Yorke still isn’t interested in guitars. Vaguely hinted at by Yorke in a few cryptic tweets -- including one of a rotating white LP -- this eight-track album debuted Friday.
The Internet may have finally swallowed Thom Yorke. “Thom Yorke Releases Album via Bittorrent” was the hot news of September 26th, 2014, before it, like so many other headlines that would have shattered the music industry in 2009, fell into the ceaseless current of culture, swept aside for the Flying Lotus stream or chapter twelve in the great “Mark Kozelek is an Insufferable Asshole” saga or whatever story peppered your timeline these past two weeks. This is Radiohead’s niche nowadays.
News related to the British experimentalist outfit Radiohead has a tendency to cause tremors in the music world — and the earth-shaking details don’t necessarily have to relate to the group’s records. Since 2008, Radiohead has become known for how it plays around not just with musical expectations, but with the idea of how music comes to market; in October of that year, the band initially released its album “In Rainbows” as a pay-what-you-will download of low-quality MP3s, with tricked-out box sets being made available later. On Friday, a few days after news broke that music sales in the first half of 2014 were down 4.