While any Radiohead release is an event by default, the Record Store Day scramble to acquire the leftovers from The King of Limbs sessions was especially brief, as all 2000 copies of “Supercollider/The Butcher” were snatched up in a matter of minutes and immediately spilled into cyberspace. Now that we’ve had a few weeks with these songs, it has become more obvious what type of headspace Radiohead were in while recording their polarizing eighth record.
“Supercollider” is smooth and kinetic, showing some of the shades of minimalism as tracks like “Separator” and “Codex.” There are no guitars to be found here, and the pretty piano line from the live version is low in the mix, swirling beneath luminescent synthesizers. The oddball lyrics contain references to subatomic particles, pulse waves and B-spins, but they’re tempered by vivid imagery and a human heartbeat. At 7 minutes in length, it’s the band’s longest studio effort to date. Despite this, the pace never changes; instead it slowly crescendos, adding layers of playful electronic effects that augment the song’s sense of spaciousness.
“The Butcher” is more in line with the tangled sonics of The King of Limbs’ first half. It’s balefully arranged, as Thom Yorke urges you to “Spare the gory details/Give them gift wrapped for the man with everything” and his musings are fastened into place by Phil Selway’s shuffling polyrhythms and dark, ghostly backing vocals straight out of the Hail to the Thief era. It’s icy and mechanical, but there’s an understated sense of tranquility to it, as if you’re watching something destructive from a safe distance.
As an aside, the band claimed they couldn’t find a place for either track on The King of Limbs, but I think they would have fit in nicely after “Lotus Flower” and “Bloom,” respectively (although they probably wouldn’t make it a better album). Either way, they’re two solid B-sides from a band that now seems content with making good music instead of metamorphosing with each new release. At least for the time being.