Friday, May 30, 2008

Radiohead 101: Stepping inside an artist's mosaic that's outside the norm

I was there once, and I'm still there to a degree. I don't always know what to do with Radiohead.

They fall outside the comfort zone for many music fans I know, but at the same time the bizarre mosaic of their music is also what creates their appeal.

For those of you out there who are just simply "confused" or "confounded" by this band, you're not alone. They're DEFINITELY outside the box, there's no question; in terms of their recording approach and sound, in terms of their onstage presentation, and even in terms of even their album titles.

I mean, who in the hell names their album
Kid A? Huh? It sounds like a half-baked idea that never fully took form. A more logical name may have been something like A Kid's Dream. ...and now that we're on the subject, what about OK Computer? WTF? Does that mean that the computer's working okay? Did the factory inspector give it the "ok" before shipping? What the hell are they trying to say? That's right, it should have been called The Computer's OK, Go Ahead and Ship It. We don't want any unsatisfied Dell customers out there, heaven forbid.

Let me stab this one to death... what about the title I Might be Wrong: Live Recordings? What do they think they might be wrong about? Are they the wrong recordings? Did they goof and give us the wrong version of the songs? Hell, am I even listening to the right band?


So maybe you get the idea. Radiohead is sorta wierd...and we've only chatted about album titles here. ...but if they intended it, their trick has worked on me. They've got my attention. They've made themselves stand out. I want to know more.

You think that's wierd? Listen to the friggin' music, dude!
The music really defies description, but in a good way. There's the outside the box guitar elements to The Bends, the Chinese water torture "paper shuffling sounds" from Hail to the Thief, then the "cream pies hitting the speakers" drum sounds from their latest release, In Rainbows. Then there's the trippy Floyd-like feel to OK Computer, and the bizarre depressing feel to Kid A.

Then I don't even know where to begin with the short live recording of I Might Be's literally unlike anything I've EVER heard before. Holy trippin' daisies, Batman!

These are by no means complaints...but they can certainly involve some getting used to.

Radiohead is in my opinion a true art rock band, in its purest form. Everything they write and perform is with the intention of serving the song.

It's also evident that they are very talented musicians. Three of the five band members, from what I can gather, are multi-instrumentalists. Yet, despite this plethora of talent, they still insist on going minimalist with many of their songs. They often times avoid doing the obvious, which would be going for the big orchestral sound that they're capable of... listen to "The Gloaming" from Hail to the Thief. I mean, what the heck is that?

But I like it... because I've NEVER HEARD anything like it before. Anywhere. By anyone. Ever.

Radiohead's a bit of a throwback, but always moving forward with a very modern sound. They mix old technology with new.

The song structures are all over the place. Nearly every song has a feel to it like you can't tell where it's headed. They seem to scrap the typical predictable song structure, and go for arranged randomness over unique rhythms, but not in a chaotic sense. There isn't much in the way of guitar soloing either.

There's even odd stuff in the details... such as their insistence to place songs throughout various albums whose titles indicate a lean toward being in movies, but sound nothing like what you would ever put in a movie. "Huh?" you say? Take a look for yourself.

There's a tune called "Exit Music (For a Film)" on OK Computer (which might actually work in a film), and then a tune called "Motion Picture Soundtrack" on Kid A (a bit more bizarre). Just random songs thrown on the album. Totally baffling. Are they trying to advertise the songs so they may get picked up by some movie producer for use in a film?

Somebody help me here. Brainmelt imminent.

It's all probably a very delicate balancing act to get it all right, but somehow they do it. For a multitude of reasons, these guys are the cutting edge in rock these days. There's nobody out there like them.

It's all about the art. S

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