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Bands that embrace the medium of the internet tend to use it as a promotional tool, a platform for developing its brand or for communicating with its audience. But I remember when I first visited radiohead.com, around the turn of the century, when the website was a frustrating labyrinth of mysterious links and cryptic critiques of modern consciousness. As a branding or promotional tool, the site was essentially useless, but Radiohead’s identity only functions as a brand in spite of itself. It’s this “in spite of itself” that begins to explain why the band’s attitude hasn’t poisoned its success.
Radiohead are constantly in the process of defining and redefining what it means to make great albums, to refine a sonic aesthetic, to carve beauty out of elements and ideas that have real weight. But throughout this process of definition, the band constantly struggles against being defined, not only by categories and systems that have nothing to do with its work, but also by the characteristics that the work itself has brought into being. It is a strange, advanced sort of perfectionism, a persistent dissatisfaction with existence that expresses itself more strongly in The King of Limbs than it has in any of their work in years.