After the surprise release of Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, I get the sense that Thom Yorke releases will always be events of sorts. The man’s made so much good music throughout his twenty-year span in the music industry; even more fascinating has been the consistent evolution to the type of music he releases, whether it be his work with Radiohead, Atoms for Peace, or his solo material. So when something new comes along, it’s something to pay attention to. As we continue further into this scruffy-faced, pony-tailed era of music from Yorke, we can expect less guitar and more of the “synthetic-as-organic” sounds that have come to play a larger and larger part in his work. That certainly holds true on Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes; the guitars makes no appearances on this album. Luckily for us, that doesn’t matter.
Sonically, Modern Boxes plays around with synths and keyboards that always feel slightly haunting, and the album often pairs those sounds with the rhythmic twitch of a drum machine. The vocals are usually distilled behind a wall of reverb and reversed tracking, as if Yorke’s trying to sound like a voice in the back of your head; this effect plays in heavily during “Guess Again!,” one of the album’s highlights. At times, Yorke’s second solo effort can be at times seductive, and at times intimidating. And sometimes, in the case of “Interference,” it can just sit still and bask in its own weird beauty.
The main drawback to Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is that as Yorke pushes forward to bring a sense of newness to his music, the album loses some of its vigor. And while there are dynamic moments, there are plenty of other parts that feel, while pretty, also fairly one-noted. The album’s longest track, “There Is No Ice (For My Drink),” plays around with a single bassline, while introducing and fading out relatively benign musical ideas for a dull seven minutes.
It’s always a big deal when Thom Yorke releases new music. It will probably always be a big deal when Thom Yorke releases new music. Perhaps more recently, part of that excitement is that most of the projects have dropped out of the blue, (though, in Yorke’s defense, the music has usually been pretty damn good). Despite its flaws, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes plays to its strengths well. It’s cloudy-day music for sure–for when the sky teeters between mist and drizzle. You can dance to it, but maybe not necessarily with people around.