Influences on The King Of Limbs

“Influence” is a very loaded word, and far greater minds than mine have grappled with what it means in relation to popular music in far greater death than I ever could. The great and good Mark Sinker once said something along the lines of “the description of one act being an influence on another is a category error” (paraphrasing). You can read more of Mark’s thoughts on influence in this ILM thread, but essentially he thinks the term is useless, and “sounds like” should usually be used instead of “influenced by” (even though “sounds like” is massively subjective depending on your own experience and what you can draw analogues with).

And broadly, I agree with Mark: “influenced by” and “sounds like” are totally different things, and making musical comparisons is an inherently abstract and awkward process. Joe Strummer was a big fan of Trout Mask Replica but The Clash never sounded like Beefheart to my ears. Damon Albarn proclaimed CAN and Pavement as “influences” on Blur before the release of every album, but it took until the eponymous record for Pavement to emerge as a sonic comparison, and until Music Is My Radar for CAN to do likewise – at least as far as I could tell. Danny McNamara from Embrace has talked up Frank Zappa’s influence on some of their records and made journalists laugh. Likewise I’ve “heard” traces of Fennesz in one of Embrace’s songs but I think it’s unlikely that Endless Summer ever got played in the recording studio. Fennesz himself is a curious one; dissolving, laptop-corrupted guitar soundscapes that claim direct lineage to The Beach Boys yet sound absolute nothing like them, even when covering Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder).

So let’s take this more as a “sounds like” exercise, or a “like this? try these” venture, than a strict list of influences on The King Of Limbs. Because unless Radiohead explicitly say so, I can’t know what they were influenced by or copying; I can only identify what I think it sounds like.

But before I dive in, I’m going to suggest you read this fabulous article by Nitsuh Abebe in NY Mag, for a typically level-headed and understanding explication of Radiohead’s place in popular culture. His point about their brand being about “serious listening”, and how they get leeway from some rock fans that so many other artists making ostensibly the same kind of music don’t is a big part, I suspect, of my usual antipathy towards them. I also agree, however (these days at least), with the idea that it’s cool to have a band capable of the kind of moves and exercises that Radiohead accomplish be this large in terms of units shifted and cultural discourse.

I’m hoping that largeness, that cultural reach, rubs off on some of these artists, I guess, and leads to them selling some more records. A few years ago I would have bitched and moaned about the music that Radiohead sounds like not getting the same level of attention as Radiohead themselves do, but these days I’m more relaxed, and see spotting comparisons as a kind of philanthropy rather than gathering evidence for the prosecution.

One last thing; people keep finding this blog by searching the phrase “King of Limbs too short”. I don’t think so, at all. In fact I think more artists should exercise editorial brevity with their releases. At 38 minutes and 8 songs I find The King Of Limbs to be of perfectly digestible, enjoyable length. And, lest we forget, In Rainbows was only five minutes longer, while Hail To The Thief was far too long.

Four Tet – Pause (2001)
Little By Little sounds, to me, like a studio band playing a track off this record and Thom Yorke singing over it. Given that Four Tet has supported Radiohead on tour and remixed a track from Thom’s solo album, this is hardly surprising. Pause is perhaps the progenitor of the much maligned “folktronica” tag, but it’s reductive to think of this as nothing more than glitchy laptop folk. The drum-hungry Everything Ecstatic from 2005 is also a palpable sound-alike.

Caribou – Swim (2010)
Caribou’s 2003 album Up In Flames (when he was still called Manitoba) is another potential touchstone for some of the rhythms and ideas on King Of Limbs, but last year’s stellar, dance-heavy Swim might give even more value to people looking for stuff that echoes the new Radiohead.

Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma (2010)
An obvious source, given the tumble-down, photocopied jazz beats of Bloom and the fact that Thom sings one track on this record.

Talk Talk – Laughing Stock (1991)
The opening drum beat from New Grass was sampled on UNKLE’s Thom Yorke-starring Rabbit In The Headlights way back in the 1990s, and I’ve heard echoes of this album ripple through Radiohead’s work since (most notably the beautiful Reckoner). It’s in some of the skittish rhythms of King Of Limbs, but also in the swelling, sideways swells in Bloom.

Burial – Untrue (2007)
I’ve never “got” dubstep, be it Burial, James Blake or a couple of ancient compilations I have from the early 00s, but it seems clear that a lot of people, including most if not all of Radiohead, have, especially on Feral.

CAN – Ege Bamyasi (1970)
Jacki Leibzeit’s awesome metronomic drumming for 70s German behemoth’s CAN is a clear touchtone for the first side of King Of Limbs, as are the experimental song structures and emphasis on texture, improvisation, and sonic innovation.

Tortoise – Standards (2000)
Tortoise are associated with a particular sound – a vibraphone laden, elongated, jazzy and organic take on postrock – but Standards took them down a decidedly electronic avenue, and the beat-heavy, unpredictable pathways of this album are a close cousin of Radiohead’s current approach.

Long Fin Killie – Houdini (1996)
Morning Mr Magpie is maybe the most organic, band-played groove on King Of Limbs, and something in its skittering, taut, pulsing profile reminds me of Long Fin Killie’s awesome debut album.

Phosphorescent – Pride (2007)
People have put their finger on Bon Iver in relation to Give Up The Ghost, but I hear more of the mane-shaking, rural acoustic psychosis of Phosphorescent.

Thom Yorke – The Eraser (2006)
Well, it seems obvious, doesn’t it?

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2 responses to “Influences on The King Of Limbs

  1. I enjoyed this Mr Mouthy. I haven’t yet taken the time to read the Mark Sinker references, but I’d couldn’t agree more with your summary of his musings on the “influenced by” culture that is rife in music journalism.

    Just the other day I heard a 6Music DJ say that a band releasing some kind of electro tosh (that is a bad electro record not me broad stroking all electro based music is tosh!) had sited their influences as Nick Drake, John Coltrane and all the other amazing artists that are by many young bands and musicians these days, seen only as a tool or stepping stone to getting closer to coolness and (rubs 2 fingers and thumb together) the dollars.

    I think that “Influenced by” is a much more influential term to the masses than “sounds like” and has probably been used in the past and even now as a corporate tool to either the record labels or the Journalists or both.

    “Sounds like” is so much more of an organic phrase. It’s natural, it is the actual process that one goes through when listening to music, we are as people Natural Born Compare-es!

    I look forward to the “sounds like” uprising.

  2. I also like your take on “influenced by” and “sounds like” as I think some bands or artists may not even be aware of whom they were influenced by to begin with, and would be embarrassed to mention it if they knew.. I am in great agreement with your choice of Tortoise, though not necessarily the albums referenced from either group. I might point out that TNT came out in 98, Radiohead and Tortoise toured together in 99, and Kid A came out in 2000. Being that Radiohead rarely let’s any influences slip and when they do, it’s hard to tell a tongue -in-cheek reference from the real thing, I think your model is the only one to be followed. Nice work, thanks.

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