Hurry! You immediately have to read OC Weekly freelancer Ned Raggett's review of In Rainbows, which will be running in our print edition next week; we thought you'd want to get an advance peek at what he has to say, as Radiohead's new album is the most important thing in the world this week.
Also, check out my VVM colleague/Riverfront Times music editor Annie Zaleski's late-night first impressions of In Rainbows.
Finally, do yourself a favor and read this wry history of musicians giving away their music... for free by LA Weekly's Randall Roberts.
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Radiohead In Rainbows (www.radiohead.com)
After engineering the most attention-getting release news in a long while, Radiohead could—almost—be forgiven if the album itself turned out to be less than all that. Thankfully, that's not the case. In Rainbows, the group's seventh full-length, is not as much of a break with its past as Kid A, but neither is it the familiar recapitulation of its malleable sound like Hail to the Thief. Each song stands well on its own and there's plenty of low-key surprises in the mix, from cheering children to sudden rhythm bursts and time shifts.
In some cases the quintet looks to earlier styles—"Bodysnatchers" is a stirring take on the futuristic chug of krautrock legends like Neu!, the band's semi-signature chunky guitar blasts in full effect for the only time on the album, while "Weird Fish/Arpeggi" blends a quieter but no less quick take on that with hints of Philip Glass/Steve Reich minimalism, notes overlapping in a beautiful cascade. Elsewhere they show that this the 21st century rather than the 20th. "15 Step" finds drummer Phil Selway going off on acoustic and electronic beats that could easily have been hitting the charts in recent times (they'll surely be used on mixtapes before the year is out).
In Rainbows' overall feeling, though, is one of contemplative and lyrically direct fragility, with the type of ballads that are stadium-friendly—"House of Cards" being the standout, Thom Yorke's voice echoing over a gentle melody and deep feedback squalls—without feeling like hollow wave-your-lighter demonstrations. "Nude," finally appearing in studio form after years of irregular live appearances, is the kind of late-night-in-the-jazz-bar treat for which the band has always had a fondness, while the bass-heavy lope of the barbed "All I Need" and the glazed beauty of "Reckoner"—perhaps the best tribute to the elegant sound of Talk Talk circa Laughing Stock yet recorded—both succeed wonderfully. Yorke's can't-miss singing is as lovely as ever, as are the many other sonic details the eventual double-CD release will further showcase. But for now, as an immediately enjoyable release that justifies the whirlwind of hype as well as a blueprint of the economic road many musicians may travel in the future, In Rainbows is a quiet triumph.