In September 2010, drummer Phil Selway stated that the band had been recording "on and off for a year." Selway added that the album had not been recorded in a similar fashion to In Rainbows, remarking that "I don't know what we'll be doing but the process of making In Rainbows — so much came about through what we were doing live — has been quite the opposite so far."
With eight tracks, and just over thirty-seven minutes of music, The King of Limbs is Radiohead's shortest album to date. In 2009, commenting on the nature of future Radiohead releases, Thom Yorke stated that: "None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off. I mean, it's just become a real drag. It worked with In Rainbows because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we've all said that we can’t possibly dive into that again. It’ll kill us."
One day prior to the album's release, artist Stanley Donwood stated that the album's artwork is inspired by Nothern European fairy tales and their association with forests and woods: "It's very much about natural forms. I'd heard something about the northern European imagination, in the sense of all our fairy stories and mythical creatures, they all come from the woods - Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel & Gretel [...] Me and Thom [Yorke] were working on these ideas of strange, multi-limbed creatures that are neither malevolent or benevolent, they're simply there, part of the living spirit of the forest. That's come through into all of the work."
Radiohead announced they were issuing a new album on their website on 14 February 2011, five days before its scheduled release On 18 February, Radiohead's official blog published the first song from the album, "Lotus Flower", with an accompanying music video, followed by a post announcing the album was released. Although the release date was originally announced as 19 February, the band decided to make the album available one day early.
Ann Powers of Los Angeles Times said that the album "can be heard from several different angles," which explains why "Fans and critics have already been registering wildly divergent reactions: Some think it's one of the band's best efforts; others find it too low-key or similar to previous work; a few consider it awfully doomy, and a few others wish it were less abstract." She claimed that the album was relatively unappeasable to new listeners, and wondered why the album was so short. Eburbanclaimed that the album was "very difficult to review," and stated that, although the record is challenging, it's different from Radiohead's previous records and worth buying. Francois Marchand of the The Vancouver Sun said that the album "bridges Radiohead’s many different styles" and is "worth embracing".