Out on a limb with radiohead: Local fans tweet their say

And on the fourth day there was The King of Limbs.

Earlier that week, on Feb. 14, Radiohead announced on its website that the group’s new album was finished and would be released on Feb. 19.

But last Friday morning, fans awoke to discover the album released a day earlier.

The Internet, in particular Twitter, went ape-shit, first with the news of Radiohead’s eighth album would be dropping with nary a hint to its existence, and secondly to its speedy release.

Some Edmonton tweets from that day:

groundedstar: (Grounded Star)
I am currently unzipping the king of limbs in WAV format, you should be too!

iamthejeff: (Jeff Gordon)
It might be a good idea to listen to the new Radiohead album today

Srta_Rosalita: (Becky Smith-Mandin)
Literally shaking because @radiohead released King of Limbs a day early. So exciting!

JarretEsslinger (Jarret Esslinger)
Timeout! New Radiohead released today?!? #omgomgomgomg

woolonwolves (Wool on Wolves)
#spolieralert the new Radiohead record: #thekingoflimbs is amazing. There, we said it.

theleanover (Adam Wilson)
People bitch about Radiohead talk on Twitter, but if you think about it, nerds built this shit, so nerds will talk about their nerd bands.

Local fan Adam Wilson wasn’t too surprised at the new album, as he had heard the rumours for a while, but its lack of fanfare impressed him.

“It seems to be a continuation of their trying to find a sweet spot between OK Computer’s big (yet sophisticated) rock sound and the alienating/genius sonics and experimental structures of Kid A,” says Wilson, a 30-year-old student, on the sound of The King of Limbs. “(The last few albums) are harder to sing along to and I imagine they’re making music for people to sit and listen to on their laptops or on their iPods.”

KingRonSupreme (Ron Tupas)
Walked the dog in Mill Creek Ravine on a beautiful sunny day while listening to #Radiohead #KingofLimbs

YEGmamaMD (Kim Kelly)
I’m still loving Thom Yorke today and his honesty, even if it’s a tiny bit calculated. #ThomYorke #radiohead

uncannybuzzed (Ian W.)
first @radiohead follows up OK computer with kid A, now they follow up in rainbows with the steaming pile that is #kingoflimbs

CKlosterman (Chuck Klosterman)

I’m sure Radiohead is depressed about these reviews, since they obviously make albums for people to listen to once at 9:20 a.m. on a laptop.

Radiohead fans are well-accustomed to the band’s whims. In Rainbows, its seventh album, was released as a pay-what-you-want format in October 2007, rocking the industry. It wasn’t the first mainstream band to take an online approach in record releasing, but the self-released album sent shockwaves through the industry that reverberate to this day.

In Rainbows ended up having a physical release in January 2008 and went on to win two Grammys and sell over three million copies worldwide, but the fallout was loud and clear: the traditional music industry was on life support, but musicians would continue to find a viable outlet to reach the public.

It was a splitting conundrum: the Internet brought down the industry but was also instrumental in keeping it alive. Some denounced Radiohead as biting the hand that feeds; it was major label cash that cultivated and advertised Radiohead’s music, allowing the band to grow its fanbase while never moving Creed-level album sales. So when the band’s contract with EMI expired, it simply took its fans with it and continued doing what it did best: make music.

Eric Alper, director of media relations and label acquisitions for eOne Music Canada, believes more artists will follow the Radiohead strategy when it comes to online publicity.

“I think over time, more artists will decide to self-release music through their own website or partnering with another site, announcing it through social media like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and their own network of fans,” says Alper.

“How it will affect traditional retail remains to be seen – could mean that artists deliver music to their hard-core fanbase first for a higher amount of songs and material for more money, and traditional retail will receive a different, scaled down version.”

On the flip-side, music fan Wilson believes the Radiohead model is the only future for music.

“We’re done with the physical artifact. Anyone still holding on to the CD or vinyl is a purposeful Luddite. They’re into anachronistic experiences and it won’t hold for long,” says Wilson.

“(The King of Limbs) is $9, which feels expensive for a non-physical product of only eight songs. Considering the low overhead in this distribution, the prices absolutely have to come down to less than $5. And bands should always offer the downloads direct from their website at a 320kbps quality; I would rather have the band get more of my money as opposed to iTunes/Apple taking a giant cut and the better sound quality is a must.”Ê

The In Rainbows release caught the media’s attention as well as the ears of the listening public, due to the release hoopla and partly thanks to the album being the band’s most “accessible” record since 1997’s OK Computer. Obviously, rabid Radiohead fans were ready to pay a reasonable sum and ponied up the cash for In Rainbow’s deluxe album release that contained exclusive B-sides only available in the package, while the majority of the public downloaded the album for free. It’s arguable the album would’ve been equally as pirated if released in the traditional format, i.e. on store shelves, but the band seemingly cut off the bandits at the pass by making their coin with its ardent fans and then throwing the scraps to the scavengers.

According to Alper, new media campaigns don’t necessarily guarantee the same results a band such as Radiohead can achieve with its built-in audience.

“Most indie bands can follow the non-traditional marketing and promotional efforts but not have the reach, or the music quality. One of my all-time fave groups, Charlatans UK had over 300,000 downloads of their You Cross My Path album through XM Radio, and when it came time to sell it, it sold less than 2,000 in the US. That tells me either their fans wanted the music and didn’t want to pay for it, or that the physical release wasn’t something their fans were interested in,” says Alper.

If Radiohead had released The King of Limbs as its first online experiment, would it have been as successful? The King of Limbs is the band’s shortest album (eight tracks totaling slightly over 37 minutes). It eschews guitars and choruses for skittering drums and electronics, harkening back to its left-of-centre Kid A. The album’s brevity and musical tone has also spurned a new set of questions, namely, how can the group get mileage out of such a short album with only track remotely single-worthy (Lotus Flower), especially when considered the band takes years to record follow-ups.

theneilshow (theneilshow)
#Random you need to be in certain mood to listen to the new radiohead album. #Sleepy #tired

PiyushP (Piyush Patel)
listening to new #Radiohead album again. I really hope there is a second disc.

The question has quickly given way to Internet rumour. One idea floating around is that King of Limbs is a two part album, evidenced by its file name TKOL1 and the last song being titled Separator. Fairly flimsy proof, sadly, but its fun to theorize.

After all, this was the same band who is rumoured to have released In Rainbows as a companion album to OK Computer – In Rainbows announced Oct. 10 (10/10), title consists of 10 letters, 10 tracks, available on 10 servers, repeated messages with an emphasized X (Roman numeral for 10), 10 years between OK Computer and In Rainbows, binary code consists of zeroes and ones, thus 01010, and the kicker: if you alternate tracks between the two albums, the songs seemingly flow into one another.

Yeah, it’s a a little Pink Floyd/Dark Side of the Moon, but fanatics eat this stuff up.

Also, Radiohead released a track, These Are My Twisted Words, on Aug. 17, 2009 via its website and BitTorrent, with no word on an album or EP. The song was accompanied with a cryptic text file containing a poem and repeated usage of the phrase, Wall of Ice. Rumours subsequently suggested the track was heralding an upcoming album or EP, but nothing came from it.

“(Radiohead) seems intensely aware of what kind of fans they have and how they operate,” says Wilson. “If you’ve seen their last.fm page, they have almost 300 million plays and that’s only since last.fm started. Word out mouth has been replaced by word of blog/tweet/Facebook/Tumbler. It’s much faster and far more convincing. Everything is a click away.”

Alper takes a more cautious outlook on the Radiohead model of music releases.

“The model has to be how a band can survive financially by either giving their recordings of music away for free or a lower price,” says Alper.

“The direct-to-fan relationship, for some, is don’t try to make money from your music, make money because of your music. Radiohead has successful done both initiatives. There are a few other reasons for Radiohead’s successes (the album) didn’t leak. They didn’t have a single copy out there on the ‘Net before they said they did, and they even moved the release date up a day.”

Regardless of Radiohead’s future with The King of Limbs, it successfully released the music to those who wanted to hear it and managed to keep its brand of mystery intact in an age when artists tweet their every move and songs are leaked as soon as they are finished.