Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Electric Relaxation: Discovering Radiohead

For years, Radiohead was that band that seemed too artsy for me. I felt like trying to listen to an album was like trying to understand Michaelangelo's genius. A daunting task and besides I always felt they weren't accessible.

I remember the first time I heard "Creep" in 2001 when some kids played it at a conference I was attending at Pepperdine University. It was chill, catchy and then when I heard the official version, I loved it. Who doesn't love Creep? I ended up hearing "Optimstic" on the radio as well and I really liked the dreamlike vibe of it.

But an album? Nah, I felt like I wouldn't get why OK Computer and Kid A were hailed at two of the best albums in recent memory. Besides, didn't I hear once they were just a better version of Coldplay?

Things changed when I saw them at the 2009 Grammys for the first time. They had the USC marching band backing them and Thom Yorke looked like he was spazzing on stage. But his presence and the music kept me glued to the TV and I said alright, it's time to consider them differently.

I DL'ed that song (15 Step) and later had to get "Paranoid Android" - They were growing on me more and more and "Paranoid" has one of the smartest lines I've ever heard (Ambition makes you look pretty ugly). Thom wrote that after a crazy bar experience and it just sounds like confusion and clarity wrapped in a sonic blast from Jonny Greenwood.

On Twitter, I kept telling people at the end of the year that I'd finally buy some albums and get schooled on the 5 dudes from England. Lupe Fiasco used "National Anthem" in the "Enemy of the State" mixtape that was bonkers. Last month I dug in and bought OK Computer and Kid A - figure I'd start with the best, right?

Somebody said that Radiohead don't make singles, they make albums and I got that right way. I understood the themes of both albums. OK Computer - feeling lost in the world, Kid A - a visitor coming to a lost world and painting a bleak picture of its future.

OK Computer just hits you from the start. Alienation, feeling like the world's moving on with you, feeling like you don't belong or just trying to fit in. I really liked Karma Police and Climbing Up the Walls. It kinda just fit the mood I've been in for a while - seeing everything go around me and feeling like I'm stuck in netural. Just every bit of an amazing album as I've heard.

But I honestly prefer Kid A - sonically it's like nothing I ever heard before. It's almost like an instrumental album with words thrown in there. "National Anthem" is a call to arms of the disenfranchised, "Optimistic" makes more sense in the theme of the album and "Idioteque" feels like its named - a dance of the idiots who don't see what's coming.

Kid A is more electronic sounding but it works because its good music. Music came first, lyrics obviously came second. When you hear it, you wonder how it even debuted at No. 1 (i remember when it beat Green Day's tepid Warning album). But the buzz behind it was insane and now I see/hear why.

Now I understand Radiohead's genius. They make complete albums to take you into an experience and Thom Yorke's voice just gets that message across so well. Why is it that the best and most influential bands are from Britain. (i.e. Beatles/Stones/Zeppelin/Black Sabbath)

Next on my list: In Rainbows and The Bends.

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