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Thom Yorke's 'Tomorrow's Modern Boxes' holds few surprises

Thom Yorke's 'Tomorrow's Modern Boxes' holds few surprises
Thom Yorke's "Tomorrow's Modern Boxes."

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. It's the first recording sold amid the file-trading wilds of BitTorrent,  at the cost of $6 and the time to install some software (that vinyl version is also available, for nearly $50 at the current exchange rate).

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Given that Yorke helped reset the template in 2007 with the "pay what you want" offer for Radiohead's "In Rainbows," his album's surprise release is consistent with what's come before -- and the same goes for its sound. With typical ominous atmosphere, "Tomorrow's Modern Boxes" recalls the melodic tangle of Yorke's 2006 album "The Eraser," with nods toward the impressionist dance pulse of his 2013 project with Flea, Atoms for Peace.

"Wild dogs are howling behind the curtain," Yorke warns on "Guess Again!," which along with the melancholy "Interference" shares a lovely, drowned-keyboard DNA with Radiohead's "Pyramid Song." His alien falsetto weaves though panicked synth echoes in "A Brain in a Bottle" and the gloomy swells of "Truth Ray" with signature grace. At six minutes, "The Mother Lode" is a stand-out track with an airy, wide-screen sweep that soars above its twitchy framework.

Still, apart from the bent mania of "There Is No Ice (For My Drink)" and its haunted afterword "Pink Section," there are few surprises here. For almost 10 years, Yorke has carved a determined, idiosyncratic path as electronic singer-songwriter. It's just a bit disappointing that that path seems short on new directions.

Thom Yorke
"Tomorrow's Modern Boxes"
2.5 stars (out of four)
(self-released)

Want to read more but in bite-size bursts? Follow me @chrisbarton.

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