Thom Yorke is giving new meaning to the term “casual Friday.” With no promotions, no pre-buzz and no pomp and circumstance, the Radiohead frontman announced a surprise album Friday using the torrent service BitTorrent. The album, “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes,” is available as a $6 download, while a single track -- “A Brain in a Bottle” -- is being offered for free.
In a letter cosigned by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Yorke called the release an “experiment” and put the word “album” in scare quotes. He said the goal was to bypass the industry’s traditional gatekeepers and find “an effective way of handing some control of Internet commerce back to people who are creating the work.”
“If it works anyone can do this exactly as we have done,” he wrote. “The torrent mechanism does not require any server uploading or hosting costs or ‘cloud’ malarkey.”
The songs are available behind a pay gate on BitTorrent Bundle, a rapidly growing service that allows artists to share music legally on a platform widely associated with piracy. As the Guardian reported earlier this year, the service has logged more than 100 million bundled downloads.
Yorke is no stranger to tinkering with music-delivery methods. Back in 2007, when much of the music industry was still in denial about the imminent death of traditional CDs, Radiohead released its landmark album “In Rainbows” as a digital download with a pay-what-you-want model that attracted both ridicule and praise from fans and music-industry types. While some argued that it would kill the industry by perpetuating the idea that music has no monetary value, others heralded it as a revolution, pushing artists to share their work with a wider audience and monetize their music through other revenue streams -- such as merchandise and live touring.
Seven years on, the jury is still out, but the recorded music industry remains in a state of flux. Global revenues for recorded music fell 4 percent last year after a modest rebound the year before. If that worries you, spend the six bucks and download Yorke’s full album, “Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes,” here. Or just watch the video for “A Brain in a Bottle” below.