Radiohead Play “Daydreaming”

Daydreaming_(Radiohead)_(Front_Cover)Listen to this track by post-rocking, cinematically inclined Oxfordian quintet Radiohead. It’s “Daydreaming”, a single as taken from the band’s ninth studio album A Moon Shaped Pool, released digitally a little over one month ago. The new record will be available in CD and in vinyl form by June 17, which is coming up fast. A special edition with two more tracks is to follow in September.

The accompanying video, starring singer Thom Yorke walking through corridors and opening doors that lead into disconnected locations was directed by none other than P.T Anderson, known for films like Magnolia and Boogie Nights. The director had previously worked with Radiohead orchestral linchpin and multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, whose soundtrack work is featured in several of Anderson’s films.

In a similar fashion, the video for this song was approached as a bona fide film project, submitted to selected theatres directly as 35mm prints. I think this song as it is portrayed in the film is very much in line with what Radiohead have explored previously, namely the nature of existence and where we seem to be going as a civilization. Read more

Radiohead Play “The National Anthem”

Radiohead.kida.albumartListen to this track by laptop-totin’ Oxfordian rock quintet and era-defining post-rock flirters Radiohead. It’s “The National Anthem”, a deep cut off of their 2000 album that confounded many a music reviewer, Kid A.

That album was the follow up to their 1997 album OK Computer, a work that stirred up the stagnant waters of the rock scene in Britain as Brit-Pop was beginning to become somewhat bent with age. But as it turned out, Radiohead had not arrived with that record in terms of their ambition as a musical unit. They were on their way upward and inward to the degree that when this new album Kid A emerged, it was not just in the public eye because it was so long-awaited. It was a bona fide news story.

Before its release, it was rumoured that there were no guitars to be found on the new record! It was an electronic record full of bleeps and blips instead! Judas!  Even today, 15 years (!) later, there continues to be a misconception that Radiohead abandoned six-stringed noisemakers completely on this record. They hadn’t. There’s plenty of guitar on this album. There just aren’t any solos or prominent riffs. There are other textures that simply took precedence on some tracks. With this one, it was beats and synthesized washes of sound, plus brass, of all things. Radiohead had changed their gameplan.

But, what they hadn’t changed was their interest in the direction culture was headed, especially on a newly dawning century. If we listeners were all distracted by how different the sound of the album was compared to what they’d come up with before, then on first listen, we may have missed what had stayed the same, coded into the music; a mistrust and fear of where the future was taking us, and the tenuous threads on which civilization itself hangs. Read more

Radiohead Play “Paranoid Android”

Radiohead Paranoid AndroidListen to this track by game-changing rock quintet from Oxford, Radiohead. It’s “Paranoid Android”, their epic-scale and time and tempo shifting song as taken from 1997’s OK Computer.

The band had its work cut out for it after having put out their preceding record, The Bends. That album had them finally finding their voice after a debut that showed promise, if not polish. The trick with following up an identity-solidifying record is that there’s not a lot of room left to go, other than reproducing it for that difficult third album. But instead of playing it safe and making The Bends 2, Radiohead did one better with OK Computer. In addition to sounding as cohesive as its predecessor,  it served as a post-Brit pop statement that stood as something of a challenge to their peers.

And “Paranoid Android” helped to lead the way into a sound that fit with that sound they’d established, and yet showed something of an evolution, too. This is something of an irony when you consider the sources of musical inspiration that helped to shape it. Read more

Radiohead Play “Pyramid Song”

Listen to this track by primo rock deconstructionist quintet from Oxford, Radiohead. It’s their 2001 single “Pyramid Song” as taken from their second release of that decade Amnesiac, a record that served as a sister album to 2000’s Kid A.

Radiohead Pyramid SongThe song and the album off of which it comes had tremendous impact even after the previous tremendous impact of Kid A.  That album certainly subverted expectations, much to the delight/revulsion of many at the time. Shedding guitar-driven tunes as established on Brit-pop era The Bends and on the neo-prog watershed OK Computer, and instead embracing laptop technology and treated sounds was the stylistic shift that stole the headlines at the time.

Even still, during this period in the life of the band, that shift was too simple to be the whole picture. And “Pyramid Song” helps to fill in the gaps, with those computer-generated textures being tempered with sumptuous and hypnotic strings, disorienting time-shifted piano lines, wordless vocal backing (a sign of the song’s origins, inspired by Charles Mingus’ “Freedom”) and with Phil Selway’s fantastic jazz drumming.

But besides a number of musical ingredients out of which they were fashioning the sound of their newest single using the latest technology, the band was also exploring some very old, and eternally pertinent themes while they were doing so.

Read more

Radiohead perform “Go To Sleep” from Hail to the Thief

Here’s a clip of Radiohead’s 2003 song “Go to Sleep” taken from their album Hail to the Thief.

One of the key challenges with this band is that they’ve made so many radical changes from album to album, that they’re in constant competition with themselves, more so than with most bands. In the opinions of many, this record didn’t quite hold up to Kid A and Amnesiac. Yet, to be fair, very few albums held up in comparison to those, so the point about stiff competition within their own catalogue and without is proven.

But I think that HttT featured some of the band’s best work, this track included, and I think it can be argued that the group managed to synthesize their strengths into a record that still sounds like Radiohead. And they’ve done so without sacrificing one texture over another to an impressive degree here. Love them or hate them, they’ve been able to pull off this trick better than most. And it’s no easy trick.

On this track, they play pretty close to the sound they established on 1997’s OK Computer. But even on that album, the group added texture by way of electronics to separate them from the sound they created for themselves as a straight-up guitar band, writing songs on their own terms, seemingly in reaction to none. And this track proves that you can do that, and still serve a rock sound without crossing into ‘dance-rock’ territory, which to me would lose the subtlety of the music entirely.

Overall on this track and many others on this same album, Radiohead make the ominous atmospherics and aggressive guitars and drums work together without anyone seeing the seams. It’s easy enough, given the asset of Thom Yorke’s voice, and Jonny Greenwood’s dexterity when it comes to constrasting texture and arrangement. And Phil Selway is a vastly underrated drummer, even in the face of Yorke’s recent tendency to turn to the laptop for beats.

A lot of the criticisms placed against this album were unfair, but a lot weren’t. It’s too long, and the pacing suffers greatly as a result. They corrected this with 2007’s In Rainbows to a larger degree. But, for songs that work on an individual basis such as this one, the record is as undeniable as anything the group has put out.

One thing this band has always believed in is grass roots communications with fans, in place well before the recent “pay what you can” marketing innovation that everyone but the band themselves viewed as revolutionary. As such, it’s worth checking out the official Radiohead website for blog entries, podcasts, and other assorted information.

To hear more music including unreleased materials, check out Radiohead Myspace page


CD Review: In Rainbows by Radiohead

Radiohead In RainbowsRadiohead’s revolution is about distribution, if not musical innovation on their latest disc, In Rainbows.

In 2000, Radiohead brought out their follow-up to what was considered to be a breakthrough album in 1997’s OK Computer. That album was Kid A, a controversial release which dared to put guitars second to the the use of sequencers and laptop technology. It’s popularity was most likely a surprise to their record company, EMI, just because it refused to follow the furrow which had been established by the smash of not only its predecessor, but also the album before that; universally lauded The Bends. Radiohead seemed to be on a course of their own determination, not bending to convention, and going forward with their own ideas about how their music should be made. Above all, they seemed to trust that they would have an audience which would be open-minded enough to see that the parameters of the group and their material wasn’t bound by the confines of traditional rock instruments. They were, of course, correct.

In 2007, Kid A and its sister album Amnesiac, along with the textures that carried over into 2004′ Hail to the Thief have been accepted as the true sound of the band; the icy electronics, the lyrical concerns about the political swing to the right in international politics, and the increased emphasis on the sound of the band, rather than the shape of individual songs. As such, it seems that the musical boldness of the first half of the decade are over. Radiohead have settled. Most of the time, this would be a damning indictment. But, the artistic currency the band has generated, along with the artistic momentum built up by the standards set by past releases, have allowed them to make their newest disc In Rainbows such an enjoyable and consistently interesting album.

Thom Yorke’s voice has taken the same role as Elisabeth Fraser’s in the Cocteau Twins – a means of providing a texture as opposed to conveying a story, set of thoughts, or a polemical social statement. This also may serve as a damning indictment, depending on listener expectations. But, what In Rainbows does as a whole is demonstrate what Radiohead does very well; provide a platform for sonic contrast. Yorke’s voice through out, the electronics, the beats on the opener “15 Step”, the Robert Kirby-like strings on “Faust Arp”, matched against Jonny Greenwood’s increasingly jazzier guitar lines make all the difference. Overall, the songs come off more as pieces of a whole aural landscape as opposed to individual entities or potential hit singles. The songs themselves don’t stand out as much as they have in the past. There is no “Drunken Punchup At A Wedding”, a “Knives Out”, or “No Surprises”. But, this record feels whole. Again, this is entirely due to what the band has built up for themselves in the past. As such, there are no disappointment musically here; it’s a rewarding listen. But, there isn’t much artistic movement either, no “next big thing”.

Thom Yorke of RadioheadThe real revolution of course has been in all the papers, both the rock press as well as in news and business journals like Business Weekly and Time. The band have challenged traditional channels by having allowed fans to download the album for whatever price they saw fit, even if that price was ‘free’. The upshot was not a total flop of download sales, but an average of about $6-$9, depending on your source; a respectable showing, considering all promotion and sales were done by the band themselves without the added mark-ups of record company costs. While the RIAA and its international equivalents witch-hunt their own customers, it seems that music fans in general are willing to pay for music after all – but not for twenty dollars a pop for a hit single or two with thirteen tracks of filler. For most, this isn’t really news at all. But the revelation here was that the band were really willing to give voice to the validity of downloading, as well as another gesture of trust to their audience. Again, they were correct.

I waited until the disc was released. Like a friend of mine once told me, there is a difference between an album and a bunch of files. I tend to agree. But, if Radiohead once led the charge in reminding fans, as well as other musicians, that the risk of changing artistic direction didn’t begin and end with Bob Dylan going electric, they now lead the charge , or at least begin the discussion, regarding the role of commercial channels in the music industry. For starters, one aspect of this is making sure that albums remain to be artistic statements, rather than mere souvenirs of concerts, or cobbled-together vehicles for hit singles. And In Rainbows is a good album. Yet what it represents is the real winner here. And hopefully the right people are taking notes.