Posts Tagged ‘kid a’

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Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009
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Radiohead – Kid A

May 25, 2006

With Kid A, Radiohead never truly intended to make anything resembling techno. At least it doesn’t seem like it. But their intent was to more make a work of art like their previous albums, but in a different more surreal way. OK Computer almost paved the road to Kid A, and it is easy to see that when you consider the electronic turn the music took at that point in their career. They still had beautiful melodies in the OK era, but they were seasoned with sparkling electronic soundscapes and bittersweet synthesizers. But Kid A was a full transformation. The album almost completely hinges on an electronic edge, and while the band almost entirely (temporarily, anyway) threw the brit-pop over their shoulder for this album, they still found themselves in a state of fame. Many critics were put off, but fans and casual listeners alike seemed to embrace the new style one way or another. This is an album where the band has no desire to please any critics or have any radio respect, and is more concentrated on just making good music that the fans will like, and trying something new in the process.

One disturbing fact about Kid A is that there are almost no drums. There are beats and rhythm, but more often than not, they are artificial and employed by the use of synthesizers and other strange instruments. Everything In It’s Right Place shows this early on. The title is not misleading, because this might be the most relaxing track on the album. The keyboard and synthesizers that dot the surreal song are extremely well placed, and the meticulous vocals and rhythm really get your ear into the right mood. And the lyrics are very easy too, and when listening to the song, it won’t be too uncommon to hear yourself saying “yesterday I WOKE UP SUCK ING ON LEM ON,” in accordance with Thom Yorkes strange vocals. Conversely, a great deal of the song is not in its right place. Thoms voice is played back, layered, warped, etc. Synthesizers float around. And the keyboards persist. Perhaps this is the bands message to the listener to let music come how it is, and accept the strange and different. And then we have a sort of filler track, but I hesitate to call it filler. It’s really not. It just sounds like it should be. You need to understand that this entire album is created meticulously to make the listener feel and think in certain directions. This is a very relaxing little tune, and is also made using some extreme precision. There are very soft chimes, synthesizers, bells, sound effects, etc that make up the song at first, and are then greeted by the drums (I don’t know if they are real or not. Don’t ask me), perhaps a friend that arrived fashionably late. The entire song puts images in my head that are kind of strange… One is the bedroom of a friend I had when I was a little kid, but that is kind of a strange thing to associate this with. I also picture animals and mythical creatures sort of marching through suburbia in the light of the moon. There are also vocals here, but they are warped beyond recognition. They do add to the strangeness.

But this album is extremely unpredictable, so there is little to no way for anyone to know that The National Anthem would come up. The National Anthem is not beautiful, it does not support your flag, and it is not “patriotic” in any way. Actually, this is the track that is notoriously known for being purposefully off-putting, but it is also a common favorite of fans. If you can somehow view the live version of this song that Radiohead performed on Saturday Night Live, I truly recommend you do, because it is one of the better live performances I have ever seen. There are definitely drums here, and the beat plays a significant role in the development of the song. The core of the song is the bassline though, an extremely off-beat and strange fast moving heart pumper. But then synthesizes jump in and Thoms Vocals work your brain into a corner. And there is nothing better than the horns coming it. It takes you by surprise. They are louder than the vocals, so they are more out front. And as if that weren’t enough, the horns start off going with the beat at least, and then they explode into their own things, and they don’t really make any sense. It takes a long time to truly appreciate this effect. Nothing has been more beautifully nonsensical in a long time. And then there is a hush, and the process repeats itself even more chaotically. And then it ends. There is no resolution at all.

And we are thrown into another completely unrelated emotion that works it’s magic just as well, How To Disappear Completely. This is hands down one of the saddest songs I have ever heard. There is an ominous inverted chord of noise in the background during the entire song, and it lingers there throughout. And the bassline is almost tragic it is so beautiful. The strums on the guitar are drifty, and Thoms vocals are in tip top shape. He gloomily sings about, well, disappearing, and even I almost wanted to cry the first time I heard it. And I can’t remember the last time I cried. Seriously, just listen to it. Synthesizers once again beautifully dot the song, and a great marching drumline comes in later. There is just so much detail going on in this song it’s amazing. There is even an orchestra, which crescendos to perfection, and imitates the haunting noise that you heard in the background in the very beginning, in all of it’s warped and sad glory. This might be the best song on the album, but it is very sad. But if any song can convince you that sad can be a good thing, this is it. The song ends with Thom Yorkes vocals literally melding into synthesizers and disappearing into the chords and music. It’s amazing. And by the end of all of that, you are in sort of a daze. You are depressed. And you might be shocked and impressed. And the transition into Treefingers is smooth. This is often regarded as the worst song on the album, but I would say it is not. Because it clearly succeeds in it’s goal. It is fully comprised of synthesizers, and there is no beat at all. And the swirls of synthesizers are also haunting, but full, and somehow satisfying. It’s kind of hard to explain. It is both sad and welcoming at the same time. You can almost hear the sparkling of the stars above as the trees blackened by the light on the horizon sway into night time. Welcoming you to stay. But there is a falling feeling. And it the track kind of swallows your ear and mind.

Optimistic is what catches you and reassures you that the band is still aware of the existence of major scales. The beat is almost tribal, and the song is once again so tightly constructed that it almost seems like a march. But during this march, you are still in some kind of trance. It is probably the exact opposite of the HTDC, and this is also another one of the more popular tracks that the album has to offer. It is very accessible, if nothing else because it is catchy and easy to hum. However, the music still has a bitter message to present. The words tell that the world is still the same way, and you kind of need to fight for your life, your liberty, and your pursuit of happiness. It perfectly demonstrates Darwins theory about survival of the fittest. Anyway, the groove of the song is irresistible, and it’s a Radiohead classic. In Limbo is one of the weaker songs on the album, but it is still good. The song is extremely layered, and is actually slightly more reminiscent of the bands earlier sound in that it actually has guitars, but this one must have confused even hardcore Radiohead fans. The sound is still extremely detailed and exact, something that the listener has probably gotten used to by now. Your ears hardly have to do any work by this point in the album. The song sort of feels like it should trail from Optimistic, so there is no question why it actually does. But of course, the song ends on an extremely uncomfortable note, like most of the other songs do.

And we are launched into the song that might have prompted critics to label the entire album as techno, Idioteque. It is close to techno, as close as you will hear. But I hesitate to actually call it techno. It’s once again very exact, but this time less detailed, at least at first. The bass and the beat are both artificial, and complement each other very well. Synthesizers still wisp around creepily, and Thom Yorkes lyrics are literally haunting here. The image that I got into my head when I first heard this song even creeped me out. It was sort of a Titanic type ship, teetering on its edge. There are already hundreds of bodies in the water floating, and people are trying to escape on lifeboats, but people are dying for some reason even from just standing on the ship. The sky is ominous, the definition of the word. Millions of stars, millions of planets, millions of nebulas. Just a lot of big crap. Anyway, the song picks up with a more detailed beat later on, and Thoms voice is layered to the point where it is going in rounds, and notes from both are placed next to one another with sheer perfection. By the end of the song, the creeping has done its damage, and there are only those wispy synthesizers I mentioned remaining.

And they are in the beginning of Morning Bell, a debatable song. It’s got an easygoing pace, and you guessed it, some keyboards and synthesizers. But it is still the worst song on the album. I mean, without a doubt. I don’t think it’s bad. But the version of this song on Kid A’s sister album Amnesiac is better. The song just doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do. This was probably intentional though. Sometimes the song is littered with accidentals and an inverted major scale, but sometimes it is just flat out nice to listen to. Namely, later on when it gets more detailed and when Thom says “release me!” Its also purposefully off-putting, but this time not in such a great way.

The most beautiful part of this album is it’s conclusion, where the band almost seems like it is apologizing to you for putting you through what it did. There is a grand organ in the background chiming away beautiful chords, and Thom lets the listener know that even though things can look grim at times, there is still life, and there are always some good in things in life. And then the vocals and organ take an extremely beautiful turn. And then there is an explosion of slow gentle bass, swirling harps, and shiny pianos. And there are some other sound effects too. If this track wasn’t here, the album wouldn’t have amounted to anything. Very rarely does a song do the kind of work this does. But when you think it’s over, it’s not.

There is a long silence.

And then there is a final glorious stand of breathtaking measure, with pianos, harps, synthesizers, organs, and echo chamber played over the most beautiful cold, winter canyon of production.

And then there is more silence.

And then it is over.

While Kid A is not the best Radiohead album to date (OK Computer still holds that award, for me anyway), it is immensely provocative and extremely interesting. I think there are a lot of underlying meanings in the songs, especially how our kids are raised and how we live our life. But while OK Computer was more comfortable, Kid A is more straightforward and brutally honest. People usually lean towards either The Bends or Kid A, which OK Computer compromised between, but in my opinion, Kid A is the better album. You know what, if you are going to listen to it (you should) don’t think about it too much. Let it take you away. It’s definitely one of the best albums this century has seen thus far.

Also keep in mind that not all of my analyses will be like this. Sometimes I’ll just want to tell you what’s on my mind about an album, and sometimes I will post something outlining every song on the album, like this. And sometimes, I’ll pull something out from the Red archive that I wrote months or even years ago, and post it. It all depends on how I’m feeling. Also, if there is an album you really want me to review and you think that I have heard it, email me. It’s not like anyone ever really emails me anyway. But people have read some of these already and told me that they are very long and winded and unnecessarily drifty. I do ramble a lot, and I understand that this is a problem for some people. But I figure the more I ramble and free associate, the more interesting things will get, and the less I will seem like I’m just full of ****, and some dude who just wants attention and wants people to care about what he thinks. That’s not the case, I promise.