Posts Tagged ‘radiohead’

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Off This Century – My Favorite Albums of 2000-2009

December 25, 2009
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Thom Yorke – "Hearing Damage"

October 15, 2009
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Thom Yorke of Radiohead.

It has been a busy year for Thom Yorke of Radiohead. The band has released two new singles within the past three months: “Harry Patch (In Memory Of)” and “These Are My Twisted Words.” You’ll hear neither on the radio. Yorke has also released two solo singles of his own, a cover of Mark Mulcahy’s “All for the Best” and a double A-side 12-inch of the songs “Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses” and “The Hollowed Earth.” In addition to this, he’s started an as of yet unnamed new band with Flea, Nigel Godrich, and others.

You’ll hear a lot of varying opinions on said activity if you ask a bunch of Radiohead fans. Opinions are pretty divided, but the general consensus seems to be that the new tracks are nifty, even pretty good, but a bit of a disappointment. I personally agree, for the most part. In particular, “Harry Patch,” as pretty as it is, sounds streamlined, and so do “Twisted Words” and the Yorke singles, even considering their experimentation. To me, “All for the Best” is the one that sticks out as the best, a glowing electronic pop piece. With all this said, I’ve been playing all of these tracks fairly often recently, so my disappointment is obviously rather minimal.

The latest bit of Thom Yorke related news involves one of the stranger releases of this year, the indie/alternative rock star-studded “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” soundtrack, which contains the work of Grizzly Bear and Beach House’s Victoria LeGrand, Bon Iver and St. Vincent, Death Cab for Cutie, The Killers, Muse and Thom Yorke himself, among others. Someone involved with the Twilight Saga clearly had a large wad of cash to blow and happened to decide that this soundtrack merited it.

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Mmm, mmm, kiss me Edward Cullen, kiss me lest I stain my petticoat with mine beads of anticipatory perspiration.

As you can expect from a cast like that, the disc is scattered in quality. It is split pretty much half and half between (and this is just one man’s opinion here) lame alternative-lite shit and moody, thoughtful pieces. Yorke leads the latter pack with his new song “Hearing Damage.”

As I write this, I’ve listened to the song maybe around ten times, and it is really beginning to bother me. I’m imagining Mr. Yorke would either take this as a bit of a put-down or a complement, and I should hope the latter. A lot of Radiohead’s greatest work has been willfully difficult and experimental, and every one of their albums within the past nine years have their artfully disturbing moments. Thom Yorke took the band’s electronic paranoia to another level with his excellent 2006 solo album The Eraser. Not many other artists have the ability to reliably get under a listener’s skin with their music.

“Hearing Damage” wouldn’t sound out of place on The Eraser, and for that reason complaints of Yorke not progressing his style beyond dark electronic music may be legitimate, but this also means that Yorke has really started to cement his own style as a solo artist, and we can tell that this is a Thom Yorke track immediately upon hearing it. The song still has it’s own thing going, though. It taps into something primal, and we can point to the pulsing, irregular rhythm for part of the explanation.

The piece seems to build and build and not climax, and it’s sonic identity is built around a shuddering, bassy synth. It is heard throughout the track, dipping in and out and warping as the song draws to a close, and is also mirrored by higher pitched synths throughout. In opposition to this inventiveness is that this track is slickly produced, as expected for a song on the soundtrack of a major motion picture. How complex and disturbing the song is contrasts with its immediacy.

As far as Yorke’s vocals and lyrics go, we are reminded here why he is still one of the best vocalists around. As we have heard on Radiohead albums as well as The Eraser, a little bit of echo goes a long way for Yorke, and raises his emotional momentum a hell of a lot. His singing here is hushed, also a lot like it was on the majority of songs on The Eraser.

The lyrics are, as expected, the heart of the song, and they solidify “Hearing Damage” as a classic cut. “You can do no wrong / in my eyes, in my eyes” may sound like sexy vampire type shit, but it’s got the typical Yorke sleeper effect, and when you really think about it, it’s pretty creepy. He switches back and forth between first and second person point of view here, and there is no short supply of affecting material. Even more harrowing: “A drunken salesman / your hearing damage / your mind is restless / they say you’re getting better, but you don’t feel any better.”

A slithering earworm, “Hearing Damage” crawls into your consciousness, stays there, and haunts you, like tinnitus. It’s no surprise that it is the odd duck out on this soundtrack, and nothing else sounds half as creative. Granted, its competition is lukewarm and straightforward, but the curiosity of how the song might be used in New Moon almost makes me feel like I could tolerate two hours of vampire smut to know. Well, not really. But it’s further proof that Thom Yorke still has the capacity to make great music in 2009, and paired with some of the other good compositions here, makes the soundtrack worth the price of admission.

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Admit it guys, pretty much the story of our lives for the past two years.

NOTICE: As you can see, all of the Radio Cure playlist posts have been deleted. Don’t worry, you can still view them on the “Radio Playlists” page, now accessible from the sidebar. I did this to open up space on the front page for more interesting posts, as the front page was getting cluttered with playlists that I post weekly and didn’t have a whole hell of a lot of content.

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News from the home front

August 11, 2008

Thought I’d explain why I haven’t been writing as much lately.

I’ve been working again, and that has been absorbing a lot of my time, but that doesn’t really last more than…well, at least five hours a day, at most eight, three days a week. Theres still a lot of downtime, but I’ve been either lazy or expressively content enough that I don’t feel the need to write quite as much. I wrote a short story about a month ago. That is a pretty rare thing for me. Maybe I’ll post that here eventually.

I went to Lollapalooza. I was thinking about writing on that, but it wouldn’t be plausible. I would have to write a book about it, so much happened. But at the very least I can say what bands I saw and a little bit about each.

  • Black Lips (Loud, fast, fun.)
  • Rogue Wave (Dull.)
  • Yeasayer (The band to beat for Friday. Only Radiohead beat them.)
  • The Black Keys (Loved em, I guess I should get into them. They are much like The White Stripes, which is my religion, so they’re my type of thing.)
  • Cat Power (Boring. We left after fifteen minutes.)
  • The Raconteurs (Pretty great. Played a long set and were enthusiastic.)
  • Radiohead (Best show I’ve ever been to. They put on a great show, but it mostly meant the world to me to finally see my favorite band live.)
  • Mason Jennings (Pretty boring. Nice little folk songs, but it wasn’t worth my sticking around for it to finish.)
  • The Foals (Pretty fun.)
  • DeVotchKa (The best band of Saturday. Very unique band with lots of heart, and fun live.)
  • Explosions In The Sky (Sounded exactly like the album. Very melodramatic.)
  • Does it Offend You, Yeah? DJ Set (Uh, entertaining enough.)
  • Lupe Fiasco (Not really into that kind of music, but he was fun.)
  • Rage Against The Machine (Played great, but the concert itself was miserable. People were getting hurt bad. I got gum in my hair. Fifty thousand person mosh pit. Not a lot of fun. I left halfway through to see…)
  • Wilco (Great, as always!)
  • Amadou And Mariam (Fun! Sounded great from the lawn.)
  • Black Kids (Horrible. worst “black” band there. Well, only bad “black” band there. I don’t think I was disappointed with any band more than these guys, but then again I didn’t know their stuff when I saw them. I just wanted to complete the “Black Trifecta” as I called it.)
  • Iron And Wine (Mellow. I liked it enough. I was a little bored by the end, but I want to get some albums now.)
  • Love And Rockets: Introduced by Perry Farrell! (Holy freakin balls. Amazing. The left field hit of the weekend. Played a blisteringly loud, fast, hard set. I love their music, and I look forward to getting into them. Great, great show.)
  • Nine Inch Nails (Awesome! their light show rivaled Radiohead’s, and they looked like they were having a lot of fun up there. Very enthusiastic. And a cool set.)

I do have some other things in the works. In particular, a big feature on my favorite EPs of all time. I made a top twenty list and I am progressively writing reviews for the ones I haven’t reviewed yet, and have been re-using old reviews or writing new ones for the ones that I had already written on. I’d expect myself to start posting those one by one soon. I’ve also got a couple other things tucked away that I have been working on in the long term, and I have gotten several new albums lately that I have been listening to. I finally bought the last of the Amon Tobin albums that I didn’t have and I plan on getting to know them better and possibly reviewing some of those.

I leave for college pretty soon. I don’t think that should effect what goes on here really. I’m going to be busy, but at the same time being in a new city where I don’t know anyone is probably going to leave me with a lot of desire to write things down, as I sometimes get. I would expect myself to actually write more once I get there, when I’m not studying, working, or doing whatever else I do.

Just thought I’d assure you that I’m still alive.

-A

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Radiohead – In Rainbows Bonus Disk

December 4, 2007

Well, seeing as how the diskbox has been shipped and people are starting to get their packages, I think it is appropriate to give a little acknowledgment to CD2 of In Rainbows, the bonus disk.

The disk consists of eight tracks, all of which are outtakes from the In Rainbows sessions. They sound like the other In Rainbows tracks in terms of production which to honest, isn’t really that great. I mean, the album is produced fine, but I have my gripes about it. Thom’s vocals sometimes need a little work. Especially the beginning of Bodysnatchers, where he sounds horribly aloft and mediocre, which makes no sense considering the end of that song has some of his best vocal moments ever.

But it just feels like more work could have gone into making these songs sound exciting. It was the same way with Videotape. Although there was an intended effect to the studio version of Videotape, it lost a great amount of it’s energy and charm from the live versions. Some of these recordings that we find on the bonus disk are equally as reserved, except this time more boring. Down Is The New Up was the reason I was excited about this bonus disk in the first place, and unfortunately it is given pretty lame treatment for how great of a song it is. Thom’s vocals are tired and mediocre, and the song could have been made much faster. The catch of it is that it is briefly dressed up with some really cool, sweeping strings, like the ones that make many of the In Rainbows songs really great. But they are very brief and should have been utilized more. To be honest, Down Is the New Up had the potential to be one of the best songs from the In Rainbows sessions, but it was simply botched. What you hear here sounds like a b-side, and it shouldn’t have been one. It’s nice to have the studio version though, even if it is a disappointment compared to some live versions you can get.

There was a big fiasco on a lot of Radiohead websites discussing what tracks MK1 and MK2 could possibly be once the tracklists were announced. Some people were thinking short instrumental interludes, and they were right. They are brief, minute long little vignettes that could have served as in betweens on the album. They sound interesting enough for what they are, but the choice to not include them was probably good, considering they are potentially uninteresting. You can hear how they fit in though. This makes them useful for understanding In Rainbows more, even if they are filler. But the catch is, they seem to come in a natural progression. MK1 rounds off Videotape, making this disk seem like an extention of the first disk. I, however, am pretty certain that both disks were not meant to be played together in this exact order. I guess I have no way of knowing for certain, but it is pretty obvious that the better tracks made the main release, and these songs don’t really feel like they progress as smoothly as the album.

There are some more relaxed, downtempo songs to be found here. Last Flowers was a favorite among fans, and was long hoped to clinch the album. However, it only made it as a b-side. It may be overrated, but it sure is a nice little song worthy of being recorded. When Thom shouts “Releeeeeasse” among his classic set of Radiohead lyrics, it reminds me of Morning Bell to a certain extent. It’s fractured, subtle, and ultimately beautiful. Quite nice. Another nice surprise is 4 Minute Warning. Instead of the sweeping piano treatment given during the live tour, the song is now mostly mellowed out. The finished product contains some nice vocal harmonization, acoustic guitar, piano, and tambourine, finished off with some nice studio tricks. It’s lazy, rhythmic, and potentially beautiful. A nice little surprise. It complements House of Cards very well. This easily could have been on the album.

The one I am probably most disappointed with is Bangers & Mash, but I was never impressed with it even when it was live. It’s a decent song, but sub-par when compared to the quality of most Radiohead songs. The drums sound dull, and it sounds like a rehash of Bodysnatchers, except this time kinda crappy. It sounds dry, to be honest.

What it needed was the kind of touchup that Go Slowly and Up On The Ladder are given. Both of these songs are fantastic. Go Slowly at first plays like a guitar accompanying a creepy old music box, and then quickly gains momentum and ends up being one of the saddest songs of the new bunch. Thom’s vocals are given an almost Sigur Ros esque treatment, building up to a heavy, desolate, trudging riff. It’s very nice. Up On The Ladder plays a similar game, but with more sheen. The song is bathed in beautiful echo, from the light percussion, to a lovely organ, to the vocals. The guitar riff has a comparably rhythmic twang to it.

In short, it’s good, as any Radiohead is, but you can see why these tracks are b-sides. This should be a no brainer for any fan though. These songs complete In Rainbows, and they are all very good. Production gripes aside, In Rainbows is a great album with great outtakes.

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Radiohead – In Rainbows

October 11, 2007

The new Radiohead album is here. I think that me explaining the circumstances behind the album are redundant and unnecessary, because it has been such a big deal lately, but I’ll do it anyway for those who haven’t heard. Radiohead have been working on their new album on and off for several years. With few announcements. Information has trickled through their blog, Dead Air Space, in fragments. Ten days ago, Radiohead announced that their new album, In Rainbows, would be released in ten days. Not in stores, not on iTunes (as if), and not on Amazon. The two ways that you can acquire Radiohead’s new album as of yet are through download and a diskbox to be released in December. Both are ordered directly from Radiohead via their W.A.S.T.E. shop on their website. You can pay as much as you want for that download. One hundred pounds. Ten pounds. Nothing. You can download this album for free. How much do you want to support Radiohead? The diskbox costs the equivalent of $80, and contains two CDs, art books, and two records. There is some speculation of an in-stores release early next year, but there is no solid evidence yet. Radiohead are a free agent. There is no record label.

This is by far the most bizarre album release I have ever heard of. It’s inconvenient to say the least. Not everyone can afford to drop that much money on the box set for the full In Rainbows experience, deal with currency exchange, or even use a credit card. Hell, not everybody has a record player. This release is somewhat difficult to receive, but on the other hand fans are hailing this as one of the most important album releases ever. Radiohead are not the first band to release something free of a record label like that, but no band this popular has released an album this anticipated in such a way. Within days of the announcement, Nine Inch Nails, Jamiroquai, and Oasis expressed their interest in independence of any record labels as well. Whether Radiohead have the power to put todays messed up record industry back in it’s place is not certain.

This is only so much of a concern, for now. The download has been released. Ten new Radiohead songs are streaming incessantly through the ears of, literally, millions of Radiohead fans. This is an exciting day. For having waited so many years, to have silently churned about a lack of new material for so long… And then they announce their album a week before release.

I am listening to the new Radiohead album.

Liberating.

Radiohead test drove most of their new songs on the tour last year. I had the official Mortigi Tempo bootleg of what users thought the album should sound like, MTLP7. Nothing could have prepared me for this album. Having the studio recordings is like making these songs new again. The concern for a lot of people was that the album would not have a distinct flavor, or theme, like all of the other Radiohead albums have had. This was likely a concern for the bands last album, Hail To The Thief, released in about the same with, with all the songs being toured and then released. Even when Radiohead’s albums are big puzzles or messes, they still fit together perfectly. Every one of these ten songs are wonderful. Radiohead have become so consistent that I am starting to get afraid. No one is without fault, but I have to search pretty hard to find fault in Radiohead’s music.

I’m finding it very hard to actually start reviewing the album here.

The album starts with the bands most rhythmic song to date, 15 Step, which starts as a mellow groove over a danceable backbeat. This was one hell of a selection for a first song, being one of the bands most popular new songs, but it also has a lot of work to do to let the listener know that the band have not lost their touch. On one hand, Thom Yorke’s voice is still in prime condition and has not deteriorated in the slightest since Hail To The Thief. The songs breakdown reaffirms how good the band is at developing their songs and going places with them. Never a dull moment. Especially surprising is the brief vocal sample of a group of school children that details the song twice. Mysterious, dark, energetic, even sexy.

What was impressive about Kid A and Hail To The Thief, how an album of completely unique and different sounding songs fit together well, also holds true about In Rainbows. The album can be dark, sad, or happy. But one of the finest, most recognizable new kicks that catches my ear throughout is the use of strings in many of the songs. In that way, Radiohead really hit my weak spot, because I am very much a sucker for those stringed instruments. Nude, All I Need, the completely new Faust Arp, and Reckoner among others contain these strings and use them to their fullest. It’s a lush, important sounding album. Also, in general, the album is much more beat driven.

Which brings up the first issue I have with the album. Sometimes the drums just don’t have enough power. 15 Step, House of Cards, and a few others could have used some live drums, or at least a touchup. Part of what made 15 Step so unbelievable when we first heard it was how ungodly heavy that bass was. It’s not really here anymore. Those 2006 tour bootlegs are still assets, because the earlier forms of these songs are, at times, very telling as well. The same goes for the closer, Videotape, which is a great song but lost a little bit of it’s urgency in production. This seems to be the biggest complaint about the album from fans. The original version built to a wrenching climax with guitars, but the final version has taken those away and left the ending more subtle. It’s another reason to get interested in those bootlegs. But the final product is what really matters.

In Rainbows can really rock out. Bodysnatchers and Jigsaw Falling Into Place both have a lot of muscle. I love that bassline on Jigsaw Falling Into Place. It complements the distorted vocals really well. The band still have that attention to detail that has made them so successful before. But the album is probably most impressive when it hits it’s softer, more emotional spots.

The song that caught me as most impressive on the first listen was Reckoner. Seeing where this song has come from the beginning is baffling. When it was first played in concert, Reckoner was a short rocker. It was an eastern sounding solo acoustic outing. Powerful, but simple. Just Thom on vocals and Jonny on guitar. Featured a minor second to make it sound a little eastern. Tough. It was one of my favorites. But on In Rainbows, Reckoner sounds completely different. It is easily my favorite song on the album. The song has been changed from energetic and almost angry to sad and momentous. Thom’s falsetto is chilling yet warm, haunting yet angelic. This song represents exactly what Radiohead does right with guitars, using them sparsely to detail songs even when it might take really close listening to notice them. Those strings are just downright disarming. It’s been a long time, since OK Computer really, that Radiohead have sounded this tragic and yet not helpless, or have been this detailed in their sadness. Complete triumph.

House of Cards is probably my second favorite, also a complete win. Never before have Radiohead made a song this relaxing or comforting. That isn’t to say that it is unrealistic though. While you could close your eyes and travel to some sunny beach easily within the care of this simple guitar riff, it also contains a little bit of stressed distortion and odd sound effects. In any case, this is one of the most gorgeous, strong, and happy songs the band has ever made.

What needs to be kept in mind is that this is not the full picture. This is In Rainbows, the album, but not the music in it’s entirety. Until we get the diskbox in December, we will have to wait to see the artwork and hear the bonus disk of other new material. But this is the strongest stuff, I trust. When we get the rest I can imagine things will only get better.

In Rainbows is perfect. Just as good as OK Computer and Kid A, which both also achieved perfection. I think what really amazes me is how completely forward Radiohead fans have been with this album even on this first day. It will take time for a nostalgic bond to be created, and that is what has made OK Computer and Kid A so loved. This bond is inevitable for In Rainbows. Even after recognizing my minor production gripes, they have dissolved after less than a day. This really is one of the best albums in years. I might even say the best album since Kid A. There are no bad songs. The album hits the whole emotional spectrum. What this album does, through it’s music as well as it’s circumstances, is completely cement the trust between artist and listener. What it also proves is that Radiohead are not comparable to anything but themselves at any given time, thus making what was already perfect shine even more. This is the new Radiohead album. This is Radiohead. This is perfection.

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Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of Radiohead

September 15, 2007

I have a six month old, gorgeous baby cousin. He is truly the biggest miracle to happen to our family in a long time. I haven’t seen my family so closely knit and generally respectful to one another since we older cousins were kids. My grandmother’s house is like it has never been. While my aunt and cousin visit, the house is the center of attention. On any given night, eight people might be in the house all at once if not more. This is exactly the way my grandmother likes it. She loves attending to people and letting them into her home. It means the world to her that we are all here. Even more interesting is how much this baby has changed everyone individually. Even people who are at first glance too worn out for any significant change have been transformed by him.

While browsing at my local Best Buy a week ago, I checked the fairly large section of Radiohead CDs. Typically they just have the main albums, but for some reason lately most major electronics stores have had a lot of other stuff, namely the longer EPs, Airbag/How Am I Driving, My Iron Lung, and Com Lag. But I also saw Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of Radiohead on the shelf and I got kind of confused. I had heard of it once before, but I assumed it was an import and that I would never see it on the shelves. I didn’t know anything about it. At first I dismissed it as a novelty and went on my way, but then I remembered my aunt and my little cousin who were currently in town and I found myself unable to resist dropping $15 on this thing. Half of me felt like I was doing the good thing by getting a gift for the little tyke, but I also felt guilty, as if I was kind of playing into my own interests by buying a Radiohead CD for someone who probably would not be able to appreciate it.

What I discovered upon giving it to my aunt was that she was elated and excited. She had already bought Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of The Cure (my aunt grew up in the eighties and has a high appreciation for the sublime melodies of The Cure) and was very pleased with it. Apparently, there are actually a ton of these CDs, for what seems like almost every major artist in a long time. Well, maybe not, but there are certainly a lot of these things.

http://www.rockabyebabymusic.com/web/page.asp?pgs=products

They have Lullaby Renditions of U2, The Beatles, Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins, Tool, Led Zeppelin, Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd, Bjork, The Beach Boys, Queens of the Stone Age… The list goes on. I was skeptical, because to be honest, the majority of those bands just don’t sound suited for lullabies, but what I found after sampling many of the songs was that these albums are very, very good. Apparently this is all done by one guy, who takes melodies by bands and weaves them into calm instrumentals played with glockenspiels, very soft beats, bells, and vibraphones. Some of these albums work better than others. Playing The Beatles, U2, or Smashing Pumpkins in this way is pretty safe, and pretty effective. However, when you start doing bands like Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, and Tool, you are going to end up with some fairly perverse, subtly evil sounding music that you probably wouldn’t want your little one falling asleep to. But I’m going to be honest here, who ever makes these knows what the hell he is doing. While Tool or Nine Inch Nails are not good for a child to fall asleep to, somehow this musician has been able to coax simple, driving melodies into very effective formats, and I have enjoyed the samples of both of those artists in lullaby format.

However, I have to remember what goals were set in place by this particular collection in the first place. It sounds like a good idea that would translate well. Radiohead have always been very melodic and at times relaxing while staying emotive. Second guessing isn’t good enough. I went to my grandmothers house a few nights later and tested the product. The baby started to cry uncontrollably at around seven or eight, and at that point we went into my grandmothers room where the crib is and flipped on the Radiohead lullabies. After my aunt put the kid down to rest and he was all snuggled up in his crib, she let me sit in the room and do my homework while listening to his lullaby CDs.

I know Radiohead’s music like second nature. I have listened to all of the albums more times than I can count, so I didn’t have to look at the back of the CD case to know what each song was. But this also comforted me, because I knew that the songs were given treatment that is faithful to the originals. The song selection is a little broken. The farthest back in Radiohead’s discography that the collection goes is OK Computer, so there is nothing from Pablo Honey or The Bends. But what is there feels natural. Some of Radiohead’s songs, Let Down, No Surprises, and Sail To The Moon, translate extremely well, and the new lullabies sound like they could be the true originals.

There are a few weaker selections. Why 2+2=5 was included is beyond me. It’s minor tonality is not suited for putting a baby to sleep, and while it is nice for adults to hear it, babies won’t be able to appreciate it very much. What I really love about these collections is how songs in minor keys sound completely different and creepy when played this way. But once again, not for the kids. Knives Out is another one that should not have been included. It is also a great Radiohead song, but it’s purpose is to confuse and disturb. For that reason, you kind of need to keep in mind what the actual agenda of the album is. Is this meant to be a collection of Radiohead lullabies for everyone, or a collection of Radiohead lullabies for babies?

But the best songs on here are almost too good for words. Not only will babies thoroughly enjoy these, but Radiohead fans of any age will be surprised and impressed. My favorite ones are the always lovely Airbag, There There, and an eye popping version of Everything In It’s Right Place. These versions are stripped down but still retain their original form, making them arguably even more moving than the originals.

While I sat there in bed watching my cousin, the treasure of our family that has been waiting to be discovered for years, listening to this little collection, I made a lot of realizations. I realized that my family wasn’t half as screwed up as I have always thought they were, that every one of us actually do appreciate each other deep down, and that things were really just beginning. I used to think that everyone was just going to grow old and things would fade out, now that all the children were essentially grown up. But I was wrong. Very wrong. This hour spent in my grandmothers bedroom doing homework will most likely be a fond memory to me years from now. It will also be remembered that I discovered a medium of music that truly interests me (I assure you I will be purchasing many more of these collections both for the baby and for myself), and that the baby did not wake up or stir even once.

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Radiohead – Amnesiac

August 29, 2007

This one is a quickie. I wrote a review for this one a long time ago. It’s still in the archives. I decided I didn’t like it so I redid it.

While Radiohead’s 2000 album Kid A was already a shocking experience, nothing could have possible prepared fans for what would proceed the album in only a year, the vastly obscure Amnesiac. Written as a parallels to one another, the two albums fit together like pieces of an obscure and disturbing, yet ultimately ingenious puzzle. Kid A had it’s fair share of uplifting moments throughout the paranoia and gloom, but Amnesiac pulled no punches, and searched for an answer in the same vein as Kid A. Both albums share some specific themes, as evidenced by the two separate versions of the song Morning Bell, but both have very different personalities. It seems as if both started in the first place, a single point of birth, and spiraled off spontaneously in opposite directions. Kid A made the climb ad infinitum, and Amnesiac dug into deeper ground and swam into darker water. The album is largely a disturbing search for some kind of resolution to life’s angst and internal pain, and the trip it takes to the answer is nothing short of astounding. But let’s not kid ourselves, the chances that any album after Kid A would have been an easy listen is zero to none. That’s not to say that this album is completely unaccessible. You have heard weirder music, but sometimes it feels like the emotional bomb is being dropped track after track, and the only thing that seems traditional are time signatures which aren’t even always present. Upon first listen, the record will mostly likely sound distant and unapproachable, but once the listeners ears decide to take the wheel and drive the music home, a beautiful flower blooms and things start to make sense. Each song is hand crafted in this way, to reap rewards over time, and only time will do this work. Most of the songs, such as Knives Out and Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors meander with no real resolution, perhaps representing some kind of ongoing search. There is some accessible material here, namely I Might Be Wrong, an electronic groove which builds itself fantastically into catchy layers which build and then destroy themselves to a wonderful effect. Many Radiohead fans also cite Pyramid Song as the bands best song. But simple lack of accessibility leads many to believe that the album is at fault despite how much someone can enjoy it in the end. Radiohead know that how much one wants to make a record that can tear down doors won’t necessarily make them deliver. While at first it may seem like a collection of songs that simply weren’t strong enough for Kid A, Amnesiac actually has more structure than it’s predecessor, and is just as enthralling when one finally comes to understand it’s ins and outs. While this is easily Radiohead’s most difficult, jarring, and wildly experimental album, it is also the most engaging, rewarding, and to some, the best.

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Shuffle Time (the snow is shining)

February 19, 2007

I guess I’ll do another shuffle, as I really have nothing better to do at the moment (four day weekend!).

Gorillaz – M1A1

One of the more punky songs on Gorillaz 1. I’ve always been a huge fan of this album, it’s really an album from my childhood. I was in eighth grade or so when I got this album and I got really excited about it, so I listened to it constantly, and I realize now that I liked it so mich for a good reason. It’s a friggin awesome album. It shifts so wildly and spontaneously with so much skill, and it never bores you. M1A1 is an ass kicker, like Punk I suppose, but it take a while to get to it’s point because it has this creepy little atmosphere thing going on at the beginning. In it’s own little strange way, Gorillaz is a masterpiece, and even though some of the songs might be confusing or strange, the album only has one or two weak songs. This is not one of them.

Nick Drake – Hazey Jane 1

My favorite Nick Drake album has always been Pink Moon by a longshot, and Bryter Layter has always been my least favorite. I guess the production always just felt very lacking. The strings are pushed to the back and have this very repetetive almost sleazy feeling to them. Bryter Layter is a good album, no question, but it shows it’s age after a while when Five Leaves Left and Pink Moon still sound great today. I think it’s on At The Chime of a City Clock where there is this long elegant saxaphone solo that just annoys the shit out of me. It just screams seventies, and not the seventies I like either. If they haden’t put the sax so low in the mix it would have been fine too. It’s got that echo on it that just doesn’t sit well with me. This is a good song though. It is more reminiscent of Five Leaves Left. I just really wish that Nick Drake hadn’t subdued himself so much in his music. He broke free and did what he really wanted to do on Pink Moon and that is why it’s such a touching record, but Bryter Layter just doesn’t have what it takes to carry on.

Rammstein – Mein Herz Brennt

This is a choice Rammstein song that makes use of great strings and some crunching guitars, yadadadadada. I’ve gotta tell you guys this story… I was down in Chicago one day around Christmas and a friend and I were sort of going record store hopping. We stopped at this small place called Rock Records because it looked like it would have the more obscure stuff we wanted. It didn’t have anything we wanted, and what few things appealed to us were way too expensive. So we sucked it up and walked into Virgin, and they had everything. It was ridiculous… I was specifically looking for some Mudhoney and Screaming Trees and they had pretty much everything by both bands, not to mention everything I would have ever wanted by Meat Puppets and everything else that was on my wishlist. I was fucking impressed. It’s my new favorite record store, I think. One of my friends is a huge Rammstein freak and he saw a Rammstein box set that came out last year I believe to accompany their tour on a shelf, that I believe contains a cd and a dvd. It’s called Volkerball, and it’s a rare import that usually runs for fifty bucks, sometimes even more. He found it on the shelf for thirty five bucks. I was about to smack him on the backside of the head for considering it because I wasn’t sure of it’s real value, but in any case he took it up to the counter and they had some trouble with it because it’s a rare import and shit… He ended up getting it for five dollars. I nearly crapped my pants. Depending on how you look at it, that’s a huge value. Easily the best deal on music I’ve ever seen. The cashiers looked so weirded out. He doesn’t have a region free DVD player which is I guess the only problem, but he still loves it and it is a choice live album. I’ve heard most all of it and it’s great, very crisp heavy sound quality.

Smashing Pumpkins – Tonight, Tonight

Goddam, I just keep getting songs with strings today. Another great use of an orchestra. For the most part, the strings are out in front in this song and the guitars are more subdued, making the feeling very momentous and special. It’s really a song that you have to crank the volume to get the best out of, but it is classic Pumpkins for sure. It is probably the most pretty thing they ever wrote that made it to the radio, and this is one of the openers to the bands sprawling double disk Mellon Collie for a reason. The lyrics are pretty wonderful too “The indescribeable moments of your life (tonight, tonight)/The impossible is possible (tonight, tonight).” It’s just great. The ending is a nice explosion of energy and the song ends on the subtle note that it started out on.

Pia Fraus – No Need For Sanity

For as much as Pia Fraus rips on a lot of other shoegaze bands, In Solarium is still a great album. For sure this is one of it’s more individual and unique songs. It goes at a very slow pace. The bassline is cool and the guitars mimic Lush and MV at times but it is a nice song noetheless. One problem it does have is that it has problems really going anywhere. The long guitar solo instrumental parts are very nice though and give the rest of the song a lot of meaning. It’s probably what you would want to hear if you were on a beautiful tropical beach and you wanted it to snow just for five minutes.

Led Zeppelin – Friends

One of Zeps more underrated songs, and it’s on my favorite Zep album too. It starts off with a fairly simple guitar strum, but the indian influences come in full force very quickly a solo guitar playing very distinct little ditties and then the addition of (holy shit) some very soaring strings and Robert Plants voice when it was in it’s prime. I’ve learned something about eastern scales lately; most indian music uses it’s own modified scales for ragas and such, but a lot of times indian music is variation on the harmonic minor scale, and the varient is specifically the minor second. You may say, but Alex, isn’t the minor second the same as the major second? Actually, no. A minor second is just a chromatic, or a half step. It’s not the way it works in the normal minor scale but it is still called a minor seond for some reason. So you get that really rich indian sound by digging that second a half step lower so it’s just next to the first, specifically on the descending scale and not so much on the ascending. You can hear it here pretty distinctly as it really gives shape to the indian sound.

The Barenaked Ladies – Alcohol


Eh. There is a fine line between sleazy 90s rock and simply apathetic 90s rock. It’s not that great. When it goes off into the annoying little anthem at 1:45 it’s practically asking me to skip the rest of the song. You could do better for drinking songs. Mostly those should be more testosterome fueled than this, which ends up being pretty repetetive and boring. Whatever.

Elvis Presley – A Little Less Conversation (Radio Edit)


There is no reason this wasn’t featured on the Oceans 11 soundtrack. Period. It was released on an Elvis greatest hits compilation at almost the exact same time, and it’s a great remix. The movie instead settled for the original version. Stupid stupid stupid. I can just picture Andy Garcia flipping a shit at his realization of the heist at one of the songs great chorus transitions. It has a great bassline and the mood is well improved over the original while not sacrificing any of the Kings charm. It’s got trend and some great horns and energy highs. If you were ever to crank an Elvis song, this would be it. Yes, it may be a radio edit but even the original is extremely cool. I got no problems with the king and this is a great song no matter how it’s sliced.

Radiohead – Paranoid Android


Some people call this the modern day Bohemian Rhapsody, but that’s actually an insult. To Radiohead, I mean. Queen never meant much of anything, and I could never take them seriously. This is one of OKCs more serious songs and it is very rhythmic and reminiscent of everyday modern life, which is very much what this album is all about. Not a lot can be said about this album that hasn’t been said before, but I do still discover new things about this album every so often. As a friend pointed out to me, there is some nice foreshadowing in the song with the Apple robot sounds in the background forecasting what is to come on the great filler Fitter Happier. What is really strange about this song is that it sort of comes in distinct movements, the one at 3:32 being the most developing and poignant. When the vocals start to triple up the effect is hauntingly beautiful. I have some great memories of listening to this album a few years ago. I know it’s nerdy, but I associate a lot of music with video games, and OKC is totally perfect for Final Fantasy VIII. The huge open plains for Airbag, the nighttime city for Exit Music, and the wonderful technological Garden for Let Down. It’s a choice song from a perfect album.

Xymox – Spiritual High


One of the two good songs off of Headclouds, the other being A Single Day. The fact of the matter is that most people would buy headclouds just for the club hit A Single Day which is very good, but the rest of the album isn’t that great. I guess I haven’t given this band enough attension, as they are a pretty big deal in the electronica genre. They usually go under the name “The Clan of Xymox,” so I guess the career of “Xymox” is pretty mediocre while The Clan has had some pretty monumental albums since ’85 up until today. They aren’t small time, that’s for sure. But they aren’t exactly my favorite of their genre but I sure as hell won’t turn them off if they squeeze into any of my industrial/electronica/club loving friends mix CDs. Club hits, not too much more.

I guess that was ten. That’s all for now.

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Christmas Playlist

November 14, 2006

I make a lot of playlists on my iPod, but to be honest, the majority of them are total crap. Most of the time, I just kinda randomly put a bunch of songs that I am into at the moment onto a playlist and leave it extremely unbalanced and uneven, and nothing really connects the tracks at all. But every once and a while I end up with an arrangement of songs worth keeping. Not THAT often, but sometimes. I don’t know if this playlist is one of them, but I tried at least.

Really, the idea at first was to make it a playlist for Winter in general, but then it sort of escalated to a Christmas thing, just because really, the best part of Winter is when it starts in December through Christmas. Or rather, the holidays. I guess I want to be politically correct anyway (not that anyone should ever really care), but the gist of the album is to cover the time before the big holidays. Christmas just happens to be the religious holiday that I celebrate, albeit non-religiously, so that was the end result. I sort of had an image or an idea in my mind when I made this playlist, which is essentially the first step to making a great playlist anyway. You need to have a solid idea or at least a set of them, and a certain flow to the songs. And it needs to develop and progressively go somewhere. I’m not going to post the entire playlist here because I honestly don’t think it flows very well, but I’ll talk about some select tracks.

Baby It’s Cold Outside by Leon Redbone & Zooey Deschanel

Every good Christmas compilation needs a low key piano jazz holiday song like this. In fact, you could damn well make a CD full of stuff just like this. People do. But personally, the mood of these types of songs are something that I can easily get tired of. But this is a great song, no doubt. It was originally made in 1949 and is pretty much the perfect winter warm-up lazy duet. This particular version was on the soundtrack to the movie Elf, but there have been countless renditions since Frank Loesser wrote it so long ago. Througout the song, the female singer traditionally sings the main melody, while a typically deep voiced male accompaniment sort of passively comments on all of the womans standard lines of the Christmas tune with musings of his own. Truly a classic, and a great version of it at that. The perfect song for when you wake up to snow for the first time in November or December and think to yourself, “Aw shit, it’s the holiday season, isn’t it?”

Airbag by Radiohead

This was the first song I ever properly listened to by Radiohead, and I remember thinking to myself when I heard it, wow, this is really something special. I could rant for a while about how OK Computer is one of the greatest albums ever, but you all have surely had enough of that by now. Typically, this is the best song for me for getting up in the morning to a busy day. Not only is it a great and pretty underrated tune, but it’s Christmas-y. It even has the sleighbells, which are actually pretty hard to effectively work into a tune. The lyrics still always get me, especially when he says “An Airbag saved my life.” A really nice tune for any time of the year, but it is very fitting to winter in particular.

Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight) by Asobi Seksu

I think you could argue that the heroes of the indie rock scene in New York this year are Asobi Seksu. Not only did they release a dropdead gorgeous album, Citrus, but they are touring and have a lot of merchandise and treats for people directly from their website. The most interesting of these treats is what I have a reason to believe was the first officially released Asobi Seksu song ever, although I think they had another name before Asobi Seksu so I very well could be wrong. The release is a joint EP of two Christmas songs released only on transparent green vinyl. PAS/CAL did a song, and Asobi Seksu did this one. It’s really very cute, as you would not normally expect shoegaze to cover Christmas song territory, but this band does and it works out pretty well, in a power punk/pop sort of way. You can just hear the guitars taking over when Yuki’s voice yelling the title of the song fades into the pillow of sound below. Nice, very nice.

Goodbye by Kevin Shields

You all know I just can’t possibly make a playlist these days without including something by one of my new favorite bands. Well, this isn’t actually by MBV, but I did include Soon, so you can count that in (come on, the sleighbells are just way too delicious). But I decided to include this too, from the Lost In Translation soundtrack. Of the four 2003 Kevin Shields orchestrations, this one might just be the most pretty. It’s not straightforward pop like City Girl and not electronic beauty like Are You Awake, but it is just very relaxing synthesizer ear candy. Decidedly it is very remeniscent of Becalmed and Zawinul/Lava by Brian Eno, but that’s good. You can really say a lot without saying anything, especially when you aren’t even using traditional instruments, in music. The piece is very momentuous, a bit somber, and also wonderfully reminiscent of times that one doesn’t want to go away. Get the Lost In Translation soundtrack if you can, it’s great. Filled with lots of priceless gems like this.

Lorelei by Cocteau Twins

Cocteau Twins are one of those bands that are so beautiful that it is painful. I don’t even know much about them and I can say that with the utmost confidence. And not because you want more Cocteau… There is more than enough material by the band to go around. These guys can simply make your heart melt by being themselves, beautiful, ethereal, and completely priceless. That explains why a “CocteauFest” is held every year. Expect me to review these guys again soon. They just seem like the band that I will end up getting obsessed with soon enough. Which is, as you all know, not good for my continued recovery, so I’ll keep it to Library checkouts and Christmas gifts for now. Anyway, fantastic song. Very Christmas-y, and it even has wintery synthesizers in the backdrop and guitars that are wispy like a first snow. This is how vocals should really be treated in dreampop…not even real words, but the tongue of ones own mind and feelings, completely unintelligible to anyone else but undeniably full of feeling.

Christmas At The Zoo by The Flaming Lips

If you haven’t gone to your local zoo in the dead of winter, well, you really should. It’s great. First off, it gets you off your ass and away from the eggnog for a few hours, which has got to be good for you, and the entire experience is just a lot of fun. No one is there, or at least very few people are, because it’s just cold, so you can kind of not worry about crowds. Beyond that, the animals love it when people visit them during such an otherwise dull and unpopular time of year to go to the zoo. Maybe this song is a little too fun and jangley to adequately capture such a visit, but it’s a necessity for this playlist. Strangely enough, although the subject matter is just as silly and cute as any other Lips song, this is one of the more straightforward and conventional the band has ever made.

Lovelife by Lush

I always thought that this song would be great for the soundtrack to a romantic comedy or something, which is a shame, because I typically dislike romantic comedies. But I make almost all of my playlists with images of a movie that I imagine in mind. No sleighbells in here, but it almost seems like there are, and the lyrics are diaphanous and sweet. The lyrics are very thought provoking too, comparing love and it’s ups and downs to different aspects of nature and life.

Good Day Sunshine by Slowdive

No, it’s not a cover of the song by The Beatles. It’s an original Halstead instrumental offof the 5 EP, also on the release of Souvlaki with the bonus tracks. In my mind, the ‘movie’ that this playlist is for comes to a hard point right before the end, and the main character ends up having a really shitty Christmas eve. But they wake up really really early in the morning, maybe before sunrise, and for whatever reason, everything is beautiful. The streets are empty, the decorations are all up, and even though almost no one is anywhere but home, all of the Christmas lights and neon signs are still lit. And then they go into the shell of a shopping mall, where only a few scattered stores are open, and the sun starts to rise. And it goes through the glass windows perfectly. And this song is playing through the entire ending sequence. And that’s all I’ve got, I guess that’s how my daydream ends.

Well, I didn’t (and couldn’t possibly) cover each and every song on the playlist, but I hit some more interesting ones I guess. Maybe it is just a tad early to be worrying about Christmas and the holiday season, but soon enough I’ll be gift shopping, and I’ll play this in the car.

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Radiohead – My Iron Lung [EP] / Airbag/How Am I Driving? [EP]

October 30, 2006

Radiohead – My Iron Lung [EP]

Radiohead may be an alternative gargantuan today, but before they dove into the ocean of experimentation, they were a fairly straightforward and enjoyable pop/rock band. This timeframe could be described as starting with The Drill EP, the bands first release, and through Pablo Honey to The Bends. The Bends is easily the bands best album from this period, and Pablo Honey is comparatively inferior and even a bit mediocre save a few very strong moments. The disk that seemed to be forgotten in obscurity is this EP which was released in between Pablo Honey and The Bends. It features only one album track from The Bends which gives it it’s name, and otherwise delivers on the level of containing enough new material at the time to almost constitute an album if they added one or two more tracks.

The title track is obviously a winner, but the b-sides are what the fans will flock to this one for. Strangely enough, the disk gets reliably weaker as it goes along. The first b-side on the disk, The Trickster, is generally argued to be one of the bands absolute best b-sides period, and surely deserved to make it to The Bends in replacement of perhaps a weaker song such as Sulk. It’s crafty and many times snide attitude gives it true color. Lewis (Mistreated) almost could have been a Pop Is Dead clone, but instead makes itself out to be fine guitar pop. Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong ends up being a warm, comforting endeavor and Permanent Daylight is a delightful outing into guitar layering pop heaven. After these tracks, the songs get progressively worse but still comfortably abrasive and nice. Lozenge of Love is a very quiet ballad with only so much direction. The final b-side, You Never Wash Up After Yourself, is quite the elementary and unsophisticated little blurb. The EP reaches it’s low point with an accoustic take of Creep where Thom Yorkes vocals and guitar playing are clearly not in tune. This version is inferrior to it’s Pablo Honey predecessor in every way, not even getting remotely close to catching the energy of the original pop anthem.

This is really not just your average EP full of sub par b-sides. It was a gateway into the era of The Bends and on it’s own has some pretty great material. This is a pretty big haul of material for an EP, especially considering it’s fairly obscured time of release, but it is well worth getting. It’s not that hard to track down and has a wealth of great material that is essential for Radiohead fans to feast on eventually.

Radiohead – Airbag/How Am I Driving? [EP]

Fast forward five years.

When Radiohead released OK Computer, there was a pretty big immediate buzz. Every song was in some way a type of revelation to the fans, and praise of surpassed expectations could be heard from fans of not just the British pop band but also fans of alternative rock. With the unanimous love for the album through critical praise and sheer sales came a slew of singles. This Japanese import is a compilation of not only a brilliant track from OK Computer, Airbag, but also six b-sides compiled from the OKC era singles. The disk is worth the high import price you may need to pay for it, as the songs are all classic Radiohead tracks.

Pearly is very much in the same vein as The Trickster was around five years earlier. The song plays with a sneaky and almost sinister mood at times, and ends up being one of the catchier b-sides the band ever made. This track alone would make even an expensive import an essential for the hardcore Radiohead fan, but the rest of the disk does justice to even the most touching moments of OKC by creating a simmilar atmosphere and feeling. Meeting In The Aisle is a fantastic drifty instrumental that complements the OKC era art as good as the strongest of the bands A-Sides. The next song, A Reminder, is a wonderfully relaxing piece that even complements the instrumentation with ambient background city noise (possibly Japanese noise, as this was a CD to accompany a Japanese tour) and a tired sounding Thom Yorke producing more poetic gold. The surreal and curiously pretty Polyethylene, Pts. 1 & 2 is a tough one for any listener to fit their head aroun, but worth getting to know in the end. Melatonin is another nice ambient gem that would almost be worthy of accompanying Fitter Happier as an effective transition piece elsewhere on OK Computer. And Palo Alto, a louder and more catchy and abrasive rocker ends the EP with great success.

If you are one of the many who were touched by the beauty and creativity of OK Computer and feast for more simmilar material, and wouldn’t mind shelling out a fair bit of cash for this rare import, the purchase wouldn’t be a bad idea. It’s clear why these songs are b-sides, that much is very obvious, but it should be noted that these all feel like lost passages in the masterpiece that is OK Computer. If taken in the same light as that of OK Computer, this is a great collection.