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Radiohead surprises fans with early online album release

King of Limbs downloadable now

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Radiohead has once again broken music industry convention, this time by releasing digital versions of its eagerly awaited studio album a day earlier than promised.

The eighth album from Britain's favorite navel gazers is titled The King of Limbs and offers almost 38 minutes worth of the experimental electronic loops, bleeps, and scratches that have become the Oxford quintet's signature sound. Digital-only versions of the eight songs cost £6 in 320 kbps MP3 format or £9 in a lossless WAV format. In the US, the price is $9 and $14.

In 2007, Radiohead released In Rainbows, which at the time was noteworthy because it represented one of the first times a chart-topping band chose to bypass traditional record labels by releasing an entire album online. What's more, initial releases allowed fans to name their own price. Alas, the digital version came in a paltry 160 kbps MP3 format, which as we've remarked before hardly seemed worth the bandwidth or time required to download.

As noted music critic Jim Sullivan observes in The Boston Herald, King of Limbs reflects a return to the more abstract sonic textures of albums such as 2000's Kid A, as opposed to the more conventional sounding In Rainbows.

But the experimentalism doesn’t pack quite the same punch. “Kid A,” which followed their big commercial breakthrough, “OK Computer,” was a surprising leap off the deep end. Brave. Challenging. On “King of Limbs,” Radiohead swims in those same waters, which for them is almost a safe harbor. Some drum ’n’ bass here, a nod to Philip Glass or Pink Floyd there, an African groove, some free form jazz, treated guitars, watery vocals.

For the next few weeks, official releases of the album will be available exclusively online, and will cost as much as £33 or $53 for a Newspaper version, which includes two clear 10-inch vinyl records, a compact disc, and “many large sheets of newspaper artwork, 625 tiny pieces of artwork and a full-colour piece of oxo-degradable plastic to hold it all together.” It will be available in record stores as a CD or vinyl LP on March 28, at least in the US. ®

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