“If Radiohead is still a rock band, then no one has told them.” This is how Neil McCormick ends his review first impression review of The King of Limbs, Radiohead’s first album since 2007’s beautiful and catchy In Rainbows. No, indeed, this is something else entirely.

This album brought with it the future and past simultaneously. We’ve now experienced the future of music distribution and the artist-fan relationship twice with Radiohead in the way in which they announce and rapidly release an album. This time, Radiohead decided they didn’t want to wait an extra day to release the album, so they just dropped it on Friday. This kind of control over when and how listeners experience music is the future. Sufjan Stevens has experimented with it by placing all his albums on Bandcamp.com. The Flaming Lips have talked about a similar record-and-release strategy (even, perhaps, on a song-by-song basis) for this year. Similarly, Sleeping at Last has embarked on a yearlong project called Yearbook where they record and release (by subscription or individual issue) a monthly three-song EP. There’s no middle-man or long wait period between when the music is done being recorded and when the people can hear it. This is the future and it is going to be great. (How terrible is it that we have to wait until May to hear the new Fleet Foxes album which has presumably been done for a while?)

Radiohead has also brought the past with this album in that once again we all have a collective listening experience. This hasn’t really happened on this large of a scale since In Rainbows, and before that who knows. The late 90’s? How awesome would it have been to all be listening to Kanye’s Fantasy all at the same time, all marveling at the artistry and killer composition of the thing? We have that chance with Radiohead. I’ve listened to it twice already and I know all around the world, millions like me are throwing on headphones, cranking up stereos, listening by iPod on the train, or stuck in traffic. But we’re all listening to The King of Limbs. We’ll talk about it at work, on Facebook, over Twitter, out with friends this weekend, at church, etc. That’s awesome.

Now to the album. Dubstep, sure. Chill and not very rock and roll? See the linked quote above. My impression of this album is that it is a rendition of Radiohead’s Kid A and Amnesiac period done analog instead of digital. It is more fixated with soundscape than it is with song structure (this is not to say that there aren’t some beautiful songs here) and they are up to some of their old tricks (instrumentals, distorted vocals, horns for the first time since “The National Anthem” and “Life in a Glass House”). But what I find to be the most indicative of what they are up to is the shift from the harsher, colder digital synth to the much softer, warmer analog sound. I think this can be directly attributable not to Burial, but to Portishead. Portishead released the masterpiece Third six months after In Rainbows. Third was a revelation to Portishead fans in that it dropped the oft-mimicked “Trip-Hop” for a dark, imposing, analog-y and textured sound. Radiohead went nuts for it. Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood did their best 13-year-olds-with-guitars impression on Youtube, covering “The Rip.”

You can hear a lot of Third in The King of Limbs (especially in “Little by Little” and “Separator”), and even quite a bit of (Portishead’s) Geoff Barrow’s side band Beak> (listen to “Bloom” and “Good Morning, Mr. Magpie”) which tends more toward krautrock and early 70’s analog synth. With Third, Portishead retreated from the pretenders and imitators and created the sound only they can produce. That move obviously spurred Radiohead to do the same, as The King of Limbs finds them returning to the singular sound that no one has figured out how to rip off (Kid A and Amnesiac) and infusing it with a texture and quality that very few others are attending to currently. While everyone else has figured out the cold bleep-bloop of digital (Sufjan, Caribou, Kanye West, Gorillaz’ iPad album, heck, even Bon Iver) Radiohead has made an analog album for the digital age.