Posts Tagged ‘radiohead’

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Thom Yorke – The Eraser

July 12, 2006

Thom Yorke’s first solo album is very much a broken blessing. It is good, yes, and it actually pretty close to the kind of thing I was expecting. It is said that one of the main themes of The Eraser is to forget the past and to put things behind you that you care not to remember anymore. I can fully relate to this issue, and I often end up punching myself for things that I did even when I was a little kid, or even over things that haven’t happened. So how do I deal with it? I hold my breath and move on. Thom Yorke seems as stressed a person as any, and I’m assuming that he does the same thing, but when you have a creative drive for creating music, why not utilize this medium to help the problem? The disk by no means completely quenches my thirst for more Radiohead material because it is not like Radiohead at all, but in the context that this is at least written by the key player in the Radiohead experience, it is very pleasing for whatever reason.

Radiohead has sort of been in limbo (yeah, whatever.) since Hail To The Theif came out. That may have been Radioheads most diverse and varied album. When you try all sorts of things at once, where do you go next? Well, it’s not that this is too much of a journey off of Radioheads work. It is being released in the off month of Radioheads tour where they are test driving new material for release. But that doesn’t stop the fact that there hasn’t been a Radiohead album since 2003. Fans are getting jittery, considering the band has never had a three year break before. So this is a good treat, deffinitely. And the really special thing about this album is that it’s clearly nothing that could have been released in the context of Radiohead. It is very electronic and dreary and quite honestly doesn’t have material that can be played with a full band.

It’s a record to loose yourself in. I’m sure it was sort of that way to make too, as most of the samples and effects are simple and obviously synthetic. It is clear that effort went into making this album, but not that much. What I have gathered is that Thom Yorke had begun to learn how to work with his computer much more on making music, and the album is more of a result of many ideas that were put together or expanded on. In fact, parts of the title track aren’t even his ideas. The piano sample was done by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead a few years ago, and I can almost picture Thom Yorke tapping a beat to go along with the tune created by the sample somewhere near his laptop. And then perhaps him looking at his laptop and understanding what he should do.

Like Thom himself says, “solo album” makes it seem like he was more detatched from the band than he was when he was writing it, and “side project” almost makes it seem too miniscule. But to some extent, this is a minor release. Yes, it has been getting the attension as if it was a major label album, and almost seems like it is in some ways. But it is very much a side project. At least I think it is. It is what Mr. Yorke completed in his spare time, and while the music is very good, it need not be too harshly critiqued, because the mans work is clearly most concentrated on Radiohead. So this album is more of a treat than anything. But what a treat it is. Just as the band starts to drift back toward guitar driven pop, this is released on the exact opposite of that spectrum.

But the album is anything but refreshing. It’s themes are varied, mostly because they are various ideas pooled into an album. Sometimes harsh memorys are discussed. Other times, releationships. And there are even some important current events to be heard in the lyrics, involving the war on Iraq and the environment. But then again, it is also nice to hear a track that is just about rain. A lot of what this album shows us is that Thom Yorke is not exactly the only necessary member of Radiohead, and that the rest of the band is what makes ideas that everyone has come out in a more refined way. Of course, ideas are flowing from Thom constantly, but not all ideas are good for the band. So this is a collection of the ideas of Thom Yorke exclusively that are not able to be covered elsewhere. If the album had a mouth, it would surely tell the listener that these are some issues that need to be gotten out of the way so that other more important things can progress. This is essentially Thom Yorke putting all of his cards out on the table and getting personal. And his out-in-front vocals are great for that kind of creative environment.

If you are a curious Radiohead fan who wonders if this would be for you, I have a feeling it would. Radiohead fans are wired in a certain way so that they are very openminded. A majority of the bands songs are nothing like anything else the band has made. So these people ended up being pleasently surprised in a myriad of ways when Hail To The Thief came out. By that point, the band had traversed the musical globe, so to say. They had done the guitar pop, the electronic, and everything in between. And a lot of other branching styles too. The Eraser is not an unpredictable listen like Hail To The Thief was, but it plays more in a way that the listener will not be suprised (but still will be amazed) by what comes next.

The sound of the album is very melancholy and confusing. And very negative in many ways, too. The writer is skilled enough to know that the listener does not want pessimism necessarilly, but more a vague summary of what is going on at the moment. All hope is not lost, but there is a point where things need to be fixed. But when you don’t think about all this jargon so much, the songs are very individual and enjoyable, if not a little unnerving. Analyse is what you would think to hear during that impossible math test you took in high school that caught you way off guard. Atoms For Peace is what the introverted loner hears when he decides to turn his life around. Cymbal Rush is what the prisoner hears in his last moments. It can all be very disturbing, but there is a certain degree of beauty even in the more sad parts of the album. But there are more straightforward tracks too. Harrowdown Hill, the albums first single, is a knock-out. Fans will come to understand and love the vocals immediately. Black Swan is a funky toe-tapper that speaks of failure. It is a little difficult to tell who “you” is in this song, but the simplistic “this is ****ed up” is a call that even non-fans will understand. And my personal favorite, And It Rained All Night, has the vocalist almost spelling out for you what is trying to be relayed, and that is a comfortable break from the pretty open-endedness of the typical Radiohead song.

The Eraser is not to be mistaken for a replacement for a Radiohead album. In fact, it is nowhere close to the quality of a Radiohead album, but no one was expecting it to be. It’s a quickie, it’s enjoyable, and it is a good way to tide over fans until the real prize is recieved. It’s not perfect or even a great piece of work, though it is consistant in quality. The bottom line is, this is the result of Thom Yorke taking bits, pieces, leftovers, and even trash and sculpting it into something beautiful. And if this is where Thoms mind goes when it’s not on schedule, I’m not worried at all about his future in songwriting.

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Radiohead – Amnesiac

June 3, 2006

 

Radiohead has always been sort of a hit or miss band. Some people “get” them, and some people take the lack of consistency as a weakness. In many ways, it is a weakness, but it surely refines the fanbase quite a bit. Out of all of Radioheads albums, Amnesiac might be the definitive hit or miss album. It was meant to be released as sort of a companion record to Kid A, and that really didn’t help it much. In my opinion, Kid A is a masterpiece. While Amnesiac is nothing close, it is still respectable. I’m not sure how the band decided what tracks would go on what disk, but this is the weaker of the two by means of strong tracks if nothing else. It may be more focused, and it may have its ideas more organized than Kid A, but that is exactly what makes it the less liked album. There are still many surprised to be found here, though.

Packt Like Sardines In A Crushd Tin Box is an interesting note to start the album off on. It’s a very skewed track. The synthesizers and electronic beats will come as familiar in some way to Radiohead fans who remember Kid A. The core of the song comes in a tightly packed cowbell type sound, with looming sound effects that sort of climb upward, in a routine spiral. I like it, but I don’t really know why. This kind of track relaxes me for some reason. I get tired a lot, and I have ADD, so I tend to just drift off when I am listening to music. This is one of those such songs that I can just get taken away during, by the routine beat. Actually, that happens a lot on Kid A too. Both albums have this very exact beat and very accurate presentation, even if there doesn’t seem to be too much order to the madness all the time.

Pyramid song is a highlight and a fan favorite. It really makes you think. Radiohead definitely did some good by putting this in here. It’s another very surreal song, and I believe it was inspired by a dream that Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke had. It shows in the nonsensical lyrics.

I jumped in the river and what did I see?
Black-eyed angels swam with me
A moon full of stars and astral cars
All the things I used to see
All my lovers were there with me
All my past and futures
And we all went to heaven in a little row boat
There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt

I do a lot of dreaming, and only occasionally do I remember them, but when I do, I try to write what I’m thinking down. Usually, it doesn’t come out in full coherent sentences, but a lot of times, this is the kind of thing I would write down. I’m not trying to say that this is what Thom did, but I can see how this can be traced back to a dream. It is a very drifty and dreamlike song too, and it is really trance inducing, especially when you are tired. The song is very beautiful, and the piano is just fantastic. But even more impressive is the power of the orchestra. I THINK there is a cello buried somewhere in there, but I could be wrong. The reason why the cello is great is because it has a huge presence even when your ear can’t pick it out. If it was any deeper like the bass or lighter like the viola, it would be much more easily recognizable. It is the perfect instrument for an acid trip song like this. Once again, I’m not sure that there is even a cello in here, but I’m pretty sure… It just feels like there is, you know?

Pull/Pulk Revolving Doors is just what it sounds like it is. Weird filler. It doesn’t really make any sense, and the words speak of doors, hidden and out in the open, and how people go through them. There is a little bit of filler in this album, but it isn’t nearly as interesting as the filler in Kid A, that’s for sure. You And Whose Army? Seems to be a fan favorite too. Well, I don’t want you to take that wrong, because I am definitely a fan. But I can’t see too much in it for some reason. It’s kind of a lazy strummy guitar type piece. Later on, it opens up, and I can sort of see what the point is, but it still isn’t one of my favorites.

I Might Be Wrong is the best song on the album. There was no question in my mind the first time I heard it. I for a fact that to prove that statement untrue, the rest of the album would have to pull something unbelievable, more unbelievable than this. It is one of the most played songs on my iPod, and to complement that, I have at least four live versions of it. It’s just that good. It really plugs along with the electronic flow, and the guitar part is very detailed. The entire song is very detailed, actually. The bassline also stands out to me, because it is very detailed. The lyrics are also very respectable, and I think they are about how much Thom loves his wife. It’s an extremely catchy song, and one of my favorite Radiohead songs ever. It’s just amazing.

Knives Out still follows in the steps of the rest of the album. The album definitely has it’s own distinct feeling, as opposed to the diverse Kid A. A lot of it feels like that climbing that I mentioned before. This is one of the more routine round based songs that follows the feelings very well. It’s the more accessible song on the album, because it actually features some real live guitars, and real live drums. It feels like this would play at some bittersweet moment, but what I have in my mind is more of a lush image. I’ve always thought of it representing some sort of golden sunshiney day, over a forest near an urban area.

Or this.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a really charming song, even if it is bittersweet. It is also one of the few Radiohead songs you can put on repeat, because it doesn’t really develop so much as just play through.

The climbing persists.

Next is a version of Morning Bell, labeled Amnesiac. It’s better than the Kid A version that preceded it definitely, because it is a lot more ominous (Christ, I use that word a lot, don’t I?) and features some interesting ooooing synthesizers and bells that actually make the rhythm more refined. Anyone who knows the original version from Kid A knows that it is sort of a happy/sad type of song. Well, I think this version does a better job of making the more sad and dreary parts even more sad and dreary, and the happier parts happier. A good song, and it’s better here.

Dollars and Cents is a personal favorite. It has a lot of energy, and a lot of mystique. When you hear it, you may be reminded of Pyramid Song, for whatever reason. I sort of was. I couldn’t really figure out why this wasn’t named Pyramid Song. It sounds more like an eastern tune, and it is very reminiscent of the desert. Maybe not just the desert, but also other eastern nations such as China and Mongolia. The very echoey drums and warpy guitar along with the extremely powerful full orchestra sort of help that along. The explosion of energy later on is enough to even keep people who don’t like the rest of the song interested, and it’s worth the listen for them. It’s a very weird song, but I like it a lot.

Hunting Bears is also filler, but it’s better than Pull/Pulk. It’s really just a string of interesting guitar chords, and even though it doesn’t exactly go anywhere, it is pleasant enough. I don’t know what the deal is with all of the bears in the Kid A/Amnesiac marketing schemes, but they are interesting bears indeed. I draw them in math class sometimes. The little heads. I heard someone call them “citizen insanes” once. I think that is a B-Side on the Com Lag EP, but I don’t have it. If you have ever seen those little clips that advertised the albums when they came out, there was one called “Bear Witch Project” that was just creepy as hell. Try to find that somewhere.

Like Spinning Plates is also very interesting. It doesn’t make much sense at first. You have to listen to it more than once to really understand it even a little. I heard a live version where it was played on piano, but this is almost entirely synthesizers (if not entirely), so the production is kind of interesting. It still feels like you are climbing during this one, and at this point things are getting more strange, and you can feel the end of the climbing very near. Like this is the last leg of the journey. I almost want to call this filler too, but it is very interesting, almost too interesting to be filler.

But Life In A Glasshouse is a really good conclusion to the album. There is some silence, and it feels like you sort of float through an opening, into, well, either a Glasshouse or some big city somewhere at night, with all the hustle and bustle. Trumpets, a piano, and I think a clarinet play big rolls in this song. It’s very interesting, and very relaxing. It’s not a completely resolving song, but it at least makes you feel like the rest of the album really went somewhere. I can’t really say much more.

I once heard that Thom Yorke said this album was the parallel of Kid A. And on the cover art of Kid A, the volcano that you see is where Amnesiac takes place, while Kid A is more the spectator roll. I can see why, somehow. Both albums show a kind of journey, and even though Amnesiac shows it in a slightly weaker way, it is still a real keeper. Perhaps that mouse on the translucent plain looking at the big mountain can only wonder what he is missing out on, for better or worse.

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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.