Monday, July 18, 2005

Radiohead, II

Radiohead- Kid A

‘OK Computer’ was canonized soon after it was released. Once the buzz died down, the new buzz of eager anticipation took its place as everyone wondered how on earth Radiohead could follow up their masterpiece.

I’m starting to waver a little bit on the statement that ‘OK’ is the band’s defining moment. I’ve been listening to the band’s last three LP’s a lot- more than any other records since this project started- and each day, listen peels another layer back to reveal a fold or nuance that I hadn’t noticed before. I am in grave danger of abandoning all pretenses of criticism and flat-out gushing about the recent output, so lemme try and get some focus back. Hold on.


‘Kid A’ was an album I rooted for long before I ever heard it because I liked ‘OK Computer’ so much, and, as mentioned earlier, was forced to reverse my previously determined opinion on the band. The expectations heaped on the yet-to-be-released follow-up were looming so huge that I figured the least that I could do was cheer ‘em on. I’ll always root for the underdog, always- years of watching the Sox. Honestly, everyone expected so much that I figured all the band could do was fail.

I was happy to be once again proven wrong by the band.

‘OK’ was essentially a guitar record. ‘Kid A’ rolls out whalesong synth and cuts down on the rock program. In doing so, the band makes Thom Yorke’s ethereal voice feel and sound like an instrument unto itself, rendering his lyrics simultaneously more daunting and, once they’re penetrated, harder-hitting. An entirely new, different sonic blueprint full of lurches and hitches, all pulled off with such grace and beauty that I didn’t feel like I had heard anything like it when it arrived. I was all of like six or seven when Lydon dropped ‘Metal Box’ on an suspecting public (image), so the impact of that record is something that I have only read about. I suspect that the sentiment, feeling was similar to the time of the arrival of ‘Kid A’- both a major critical triumph and a deep, textured musical experience that sent pulses of shock like a goddamn bomb went off, kid.

Radiohead- Amnesiac

On a lot of these reviews, I find something to focus on and go from there, whether it’s making a joke or turning the review into the essay (sometimes not really talking about the record per se, but using experiences to try and explain how an album made me feel, what was going on at the time I was listening to it). You know, tricks, catchphrases. Skronk.

‘Amnesiac’ is a tough one to review because it’s fucking frustrating as hell to listen to. It’s dense and varied, seemingly disparately so- bits of weird electronica vary in usage from standard-ish (‘Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box’, the album’s opener) to just plain odd (‘Pyramid Song,’ which features vocals that sound distinctly like Ween, of all people). Backwards tape loops, flapper-style cabaret, unearthly masked vocals- what the fuck, you know? But the album’s center buds and flourishes- the trifecta of ‘I Might Be Wrong’, ‘Knives Out’ and ‘Morning Bell/Amnesiac’ are easily among the act’s best (and most accessable) songs. Was all the stuff at the beginning and end of the album put there to add emphasis to the stuff in the middle, or was it a deliberate fuck you to the critics, or what? I start to get a handle and more curveballs are thrown. Depending on the day and my mood, I either wanna throw this record out the window or take it for a beer.

Radiohead- Hail To The Thief

Way less experimental, though no less obtuse than the last one. There’s more guitar, more traditional sounds, even though the piano and subtle electronica songs remain present. No less stifling, claustrophobic than anything the band has ever done, even though there’s not as much of an obvious change of sonics, like on Kid A, or wanton experimentalism like on Amnesiac. Solid and distinguished and hopefully a skip before the rock hits the pond again, you know?


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