The eighth of ten favorite 2011 albums — Radiohead, ‘The King of Limbs’

Radiohead, The King of Limbs

Well, yeah.

Which isn’t much of a justification. But some things are obvious with me. Some things are obvious with any listener, writer or fan, that one will have one’s hobby-horses, positive and negative. It need not always be so clear — so, for instance, I don’t think I could have specifically predicted my fellow WordPress denizen Alfred’s number one album of the year offhand, but I am not at all surprised by the choice and his rationale for it. (Good album too, what I’ve heard of it.) So it’s not a case of exact one to one — and I would never want to be able to predict all my friends’ choices if they have a choice, or my friends who are also writers and so forth.

The flipside to this being, of course, that some things ARE utterly predictable. So, for instance, am I excited about The Hobbit movie trailer that debuted yesterday? Yes indeed. Are a lot of my friends surprised I am? Hardly. If this means I’m more of a creature of habit than most then I’m at the least aware I am, which I’ll take over pretending otherwise, or that certain things won’t appeal to me when in fact they do, on a near lizard brain level. That’s an excuse for habit, saying that, but it’s also kinda true, or more accurately, that many of those judgments shaped when young are ultimately pretty hard to break later on. The kid who devoured the Rankin-Bass adaptation of The Hobbit at six years old is still a Tolkien freak now. The guy who first heard “Creep” in early 1993 is still enthralled to Radiohead. Who I also saw that year opening for PJ Harvey, so it’s not like Radiohead are the only obvious choices in this list of mine.

If you want the full history of Me and Radiohead (because of course it’s about me, I’m selfish and this is my blog and ME ME ME and so forth), I’ve already said quite a bit, investigate at your leisure — scroll down a bit and read from the earliest entry or so. So this is a bit of a continuation of that, a few years along, in slightly similar circumstances — a Radiohead album is suddenly announced and gets released a few days later and seemingly everyone goes HOLY WTF or alternately NOT THEM AGAIN. Or so it seemed. As Eric Harvey noted today in an entry in the SOTC round table I talked about briefly yesterday:

I know that my online immersion has at times altered my perception of greater musical time—hype cycles, release dates, the speed of acquisition—but I wonder if any of you have stepped back and wondered how much your perception of music is affected by your continuous virtual proximity to other obsessives?

To say Radiohead is popular — and just as equally loathed — online in the circles I find myself in rather…understates. It’s not that they’re inescapable, except they are, except they’re inescapable only in the sense that I don’t mind them being inescapable, because I like them a hell of a lot. A HELL of a lot. So my tolerance level is a little higher than some.

None of which, so far, has been much about the music of The King of Limbs. Consensus seems to be “More of the same, I guess it’s pleasant, we’re not talking about it a lot, are we?” I can understand that, then again I was listening to it on a regular basis for about three months there so it’s not like I wasn’t talking about it given how much time I spent thinking about it. Then again, I wasn’t thinking about it so much as happily absorbing it, taking it in, getting familiar with all its details and contours. Aural furniture, sonic painting, use whatever metaphor works best. I would have called it a headphone album if I listened to it that way but I didn’t. It’s Radiohead and, well, yeah.

Seems to me that justifying something at a certain point is less about making the case as acknowledging your comfort level. I’ve said before these kinds of lists ultimately irritate me because of their skewed sense of what one was actually listening to and engaging with throughout the year, or where one found the greatest importance in things. I’ve said in general this year that the most important thing that happened was me moving in with the love of my life, music’s somewhere back there in the list. Still important, though, certainly, and part of that importance can sometimes be as simple as knowing there’ll be something that I will unreservedly love straight out of the gate, and to have your hunch fully justified. One year it might have been the Cure. This upcoming year I already know it’ll be Windy and Carl. This year it happened to be Radiohead. Done, dusted.

But I guess I should say something. Still, what is there to add? Radiohead for a while there weren’t resetting the bounds of music — they never have, let’s make that clear — but they were slowly mutating album per album, playing off hunches and decisions self-conscious or not. Hell of a string of releases they did, and it may continue, but I don’t think it’ll be quite that kind of change any more — they’ve found a lovely niche for what I can tell and might well stay there forever more. (I haven’t heard the new songs that debuted today yet but I can’t but guess they’ll sound like the outtakes from this album that they apparently are.)

So if I’m fond of focused, nervous electronic rhythm/drum arrangements and fluttering tones and minimal falsettos on the one hand and slow, stately rock-band melancholia on the other and in both cases am thanking Christ that it’s not the wall of warm Jello that is inevitably Coldplay — oh, so easy to hate still, no matter how much of a self-deprecating BS artist Chris Martin is — and if I can happily laugh along with all the complaints and GIFs based on Thom Yorke’s approach to dancing and curious hairstyles and if I’m just content to go “Works for me!” then I am. It’s comfort food with some extra seasonings, I guess, a cliche that might as well work because I’m describing a cliched situation. I like this album a lot! I like this band a lot! I’m not looking every time for some sort of sudden change or breakthrough! I’m not trying to pretend one’s here when one isn’t!

Dancing!

Whatever’s next with them is next. If I’m lucky enough to catch their next American tour, hurrah — I sure hope so, it’s been nine years since I’ve seen them and they are just fantastic live, absolutely compelling — then I’m lucky, and if not, I’ve got the album. And I’m ready to play the next one into the ground.

So, yeah.

Purchase The King of Limbs via the dedicated album site

Some new (and old) music writing

Been a while since I updated on that general front!

New: my interview with Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance at the Quietus, tying into the release of his latest album Asleep on the Floodplain. Ben’s always been a good fellow to talk with and this was definitely another treat to do.

Old: from last week, another Quietus interview, this time with Peter Koppes of the Church. (Still can’t believe I had to miss the show; thanks for nothing, flu or whatever you were.) I’ve also been chugging along with Beat Blvd. reviews all this time for the OC Weekly — my latest entries were for the Aquabats and Barrett Johnson.

Even older: the news of the new Radiohead album reminded me of one of the projects I most enjoyed doing, Countdown to IN RAINBOWS. (The first two posts are there and then you’ll want to go forward chronologically post by post.) They’re slightly parallel to the Not Just the Ticket project — and no, I haven’t forgotten about that, but I really did need to downshift — and they were great fun to work on in such a compressed period of time.

Not Just the Ticket — #68, PJ Harvey, July 13, 1993

PJ Harvey, Palladium

Then current album: Rid of Me

Opening acts: Radiohead, Moonshake

Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo still not giving up. A siren song easily resisted.

I honestly don’t get what the staple holes to the side of the ticket are from. Maybe I bought this thing directly at the outlet here at UCI and that’s what they did with all tickets. A strange little beauty mark.

Meanwhile, this show! What a triple bill to be at!

It’s perhaps a natural counterpoint to the previous entry, given the nature of the music and the tragic conclusion to the band’s story, that this one provides nothing but warm fuzzies, or something close. Which given some of the music that the bands in question have done over time might seem ridiculous, and yet. This is definitely one of those ground zero shows in ways, something where I’m like, “Wow, I was lucky enough to catch that? How did THAT happen?”

Of course, it wasn’t like it was a small unannounced club show. A lot of what made this show especially memorable wasn’t apparent at all when I saw it (and loved it), and nearly all the attention was focused on one person. PJ Harvey seemed to come out of nowhere when the first singles surfaced on Too Pure in the UK; as with nearly everything at that point it was a Melody Maker article that first made me go “Wait, hold on, who is this?” She had already had a review or two through them by the time of a first big story but what happened was that in early 1992 or so (maybe late 1991?) said magazine ran an issue grouping together four up and coming acts in a typical enough ‘we can’t decide who will be the cover star but maybe it’s everyone’ approach. I think Thousand Yard Stare were the stars as such, featuring one guy stark naked. Great.

The PJ Harvey story was far more interesting and there were soon a slew of stories followed by the release of Dry, ending up out here in the States shortly thereafter. One listen — I picked it up shortly before I left Los Angeles for OC — and I was a pretty committed fan, though to my annoyance I wasn’t able due to that move to attend what was her first LA show, a set opening for David J. Given he’s a musical hero of mine, I’m even more annoyed I missed that set now, what a perfect combination of two inspired and singular figures who love their roots and blues and take them very different directions.

There’s no great secret why PJ Harvey got the attention she did — sometimes quality will just do the business for you. She put together so much so well and so immediately that it still makes you shake your head in admiration all this time down the road; if Dry is only a starting point it’s still one with killer songs and performances on it like “Sheela-Na-Gig” and “Dress” and “Water” and a hell of a lot more besides. So wickedly smart, so knowing, so impassioned, and goddamn did it ever kick out with unbridled energy as much as it was, in its own particular way, art rock.

So come a year later and Steve Albini recording sessions and Beavis and Butthead going on about how she had a crooked mouth and Rid of Me hits and good goddamn was THAT ever a monster. The title track seriously freaked me the hell out when I first heard it, the whole idea of quiet/loud/quiet was already a perceived cliche but there’s something so singular about the title track of Rid of Me, its understated hook, PJ’s cool singing, the twisted falsetto backing and extra treble and then BAM. And that was just the start of a mesmerizing, amazing album. If I talked about it in full I would be going on for quite a while.

Seemed like everyone was a fan around me. I sure as hell hoped everyone was. Meantime having played at the Whiskey the previous year opening for David J she was now scheduled to headline the Palladium in less than a year later, and all this without having actually busted out into massive selling levels yet. She was just already that huge in her own distinct way. So getting a ride to the show was easy — in this case it was with Yen D. and at least a few other friends.

The Palladium was the Palladium, no surprises there, but for some reason I do remember we ended up at a nearby restaurant to eat before the show. It’s not there at all now, at least so I’m guessing, but I have this impression it was a couple of blocks away (perhaps on Vine between Sunset and Hollywood) and was a Thai place. I was just walking down that stretch of road the other day and I know it’s definitely not there now, replaced by one or another of a set of buildings, but still, we had dinner and then over to the show.

I don’t remember too much of anything before the appearance of Moonshake, just that they were on stage and doing their thing in reasonably short order. They were the actual opening act for this tour, Moonshake having jumped from Creation for their first single to Too Pure for everything else since that point, though PJ and crew had already moved on to Island fully by then. But on a larger scope it all made sense, whether it was Dave Callahan’s background in the Wolfhounds or Margaret Fiedler’s own distinct voice and performing sense or the combination of them in early Moonshake or something else that ended up being the connection between them and Ms. Harvey, or just the fact that they all ended up at the same clubs in London for a drink. (Which strikes me as the most logical answer.) In any event, I honestly don’t remember much of the set aside from it being loud, scabrous, and generally causing confusion among the audience. I would have been right there with them if I hadn’t already known about the band, honestly.

And then, oh yeah, Radiohead. The reason I haven’t talked much about them and getting to know about them around 1993 in this entry so far is because I already did that a bit in my (much shorter) blog project back in 2007, Countdown to In Rainbows. So let me refer you to the entry I wrote that started it all, and I’ll copy/paste (and slightly edit) the relevant part about the performance here:

In retrospect the memories are dim. They’re on stage, they’re playing and they seem, well, okay enough to be there. They’re not actually part of the tour, this is a one-off date, part of a series of LA performances including a separate club headlining show, a radio session, and a TV appearance for Arsenio Hall. It’s not a bad initial touchdown in LA, and it helps that they are the in thing.

I remember Thom’s hair. EVERYONE remembers Thom’s hair. It was in all the photos then, he had grown it into this strange…mop. It wasn’t grunge. It wasn’t glam. It wasn’t ANYTHING. It was, just, well, strange. The stage lights glinted off of it, it shook a lot. Some rock people do big hair really well. Thom Yorke didn’t, frankly. But he was happy with it, at least initially, and hey, like I’m one to talk. Still, I think I was doing a touch better than him. However, he was the one on stage and I wasn’t, so enough of that.

I had a promo tape of Pablo Honey at this point; I would have preferred a CD but I only got that bit later. I really loved “Anyone Can Play Guitar,” scattered other songs. The setlist indicates they played that but I only remember “Creep.” Because the place, unsurprisingly, went nuts. And I think the band were already pretty tired of it. But they played it, and they knew why they were there in the first place, why they had a leg up over all the other bands whose first LA appearances were small club showcases and nothing else. It was because of that song.

But they weren’t the reason why everyone was there that evening, of course.

I remember squeezing my way up towards the front — nowhere near it, but much closer than I had been — with Yen and others in a group. Yen kept calling out “Polly wanna cracker!” every so often, and why not? I don’t remember anything untypical about her and the band finally taking the stage, just that there were a hell of a lot of cheers and pent up energy.

The show itself was unsurprisingly great, though there’s not much in the way of specific details that stick with me. I remember PJ herself looking a bit bemused, amused even, at the prospect of playing before such a crowd, but not in an arrogant or distant sense, more like a ‘wow, it’s already come to this — okay then!’ way. Given the Palladium’s notoriously dicey acoustics I am not surprised that no one moment is the moment for me but discovering it was the drummer who could do a very good rip on those falsetto vocals from “Rid of Me” was a bit of a revelation.

The whole point was — it was just a spectacular show with no one highlight per se in my brain, just a great smear of energy and theatrics and getting down in it. Little surprise that she kept getting bigger. Or that she talked about sheep balls with Jay Leno later that year.

A little writing news catchup

First, had a piece run last week in the Quietus about the recent Radiohead reissues — done in a bit of a rush but it came out well enough, I figure! A quick sample:

Careful cultivators of their mystique, that’s what the band’s always been, and calling them that is no more or less a criticism than calling EMI an entity interested in profit spun out of its properties. If they could have run all their affairs via their website from the start back in the mid-90s they would have done, though the infrastructure to fully do so wasn’t there yet (and ultimately isn’t quite there now). They’re not foolish enough to assume that they were ever fully separate from the business and their protests over the reissues are both rote and heartfelt as a result.

Still, though, perhaps the protests could be even more heartfelt and to the point in one regard. If EMI had to reissue the albums, they should have done so in the way that they were first presented to the public via the media, a real harbringer of the future even more than the music might ever have been. Imagine the niche market of small cassette players with a copy of Amnesiac glued and taped inside, only carefully branded with crying bears and distressed edges, for instance.

Meantime, another slew of AMG reviews went up as well (though honestly I’m not sure why the Batoh/Espvall review isn’t up yet! I’ll double check on that one):

A 33 1/3 update — and my proposal in full

The other day the refined shortlist for the next batch of 33 1/3 books was posted on the official blog. One of the choices is a proposal on Radiohead’s Kid A, but alas, it’s not mine — it would have been a treat to see if I could make it all the way to the final round, but you can’t have everything!

Mind you, if you read some of the comments on the blog above, it almost seems like some people think you can. That said, there are two separate issues to unpack a bit. On the one hand, as Maura commented over at Idolator, the final list tends to stick to a “Big Albums And Artists That Stand The Maybe A Bit Rockist-Leaning Test Of Time” model — though let’s face it, my choice of subject matter pretty much fit into that.

On the other hand, though, the sheer amount of lack of grace, conspiracy theories and other bitterness in many of the comments leads me to shake my head a bit. A little perspective here — when I received word I hadn’t made the cut, I was up north visiting my sister, and just a minute before I saw the rejection e-mail, she had just passed on some further word about a dear friend of hers, who I also know, that had been in a terrible car accident through no fault of her own the previous night. While her brain and spine weren’t damaged, this friend was very severely hurt, faces numerous surgeries and will be spending months in recovery.

So when I read the e-mail, of course I was disappointed a bit, but I was mostly thinking about my sis’s friend and the cruel hand fate had dealt her. Even without that weighing on my mind I hope I would have taken the note with equanimity, but as it was I was actually pretty numb. There are more important things in life, after all.

All that said, I figured I might as well share the actual proposal here, as a bit of a curio. It was definitely flattering to have gotten so far with it, and my understanding is that there was some pretty fierce debate over whether to go with this one or the other one. If that proposal makes the final cut then you can be the judge when the book comes out — and hey, for all I know my book might have turned out pretty terribly in the end!

No less than Radiohead’s immediately preceding album – 1997’s OK Computer – 2000’s Kid A, the band’s fourth full-length release, generated both wide attention on appearance and continuing awareness since, especially due to its perceived break from the ‘real’ rock the band had gained fame for in favor of a distinctly different sonic palette based in electronics. What is less remarked upon now is how, somewhere between intent and accident, the album – anticipated and, even more importantly, leaked and released in the year when file-trading via Napster became part of widespread cultural knowledge – represents an intersection of technological trends and opportunities, not one which either the band or its then record label had full control over even as they happily participated in it, that has set the tone for how listeners encounter and consume music. The microcosm of Kid A’s themes about technological absorption and alienation, often expressed in often strikingly romantic and, intriguingly, retrospective rather than futuristic terms and styles, exists within a macrocosm: the unintentional symbolism of album and band arriving in and inaugurating a largely unexpected new world, now since taken as commonplace. It’s a world where the ‘music business’ as previously understood has steadily contracted, and increasingly where, to borrow from Marx, all that is solid has melted into air – or onto YouTube clips, or limited edition vinyl runs, or something else besides.

This book will look at these issues through two lenses – my experiences as a fan and a necessarily brief but broader consideration of the artistic and technological histories that produced Kid A as unstable artifact. A partial role model here is Timothy White’s The Nearest Faraway Place, his study of the Beach Boys that also was a study of the creation of ‘Southern California’ as a psychogeographical landscape, covering everything from how and why people moved to the area from other parts of the United States and elsewhere to the interlocking evolution of youth culture as the Los Angeles area grew over the years, how the Beach Boys were shaped by greater forces as much as they seemed to shape them. I strongly believe that Kid A and the admittedly vast subject of ‘music and the Net’ can be similarly, fruitfully twinned – how one band, one album, and one listener fit into a wider whole, a product and reflection of time and place.

Here is a brief ‘rough draft’ sample of the kind of tone and content I am aiming for in the book:

“For the longest time my copy of this album was a slowly rotting CDR that I burned from the mp3s that circulated when it first leaked to the Net. It has all the odd little glitches that cropped up in the rip of “Optimistic,” spikes and stutters that aren’t ‘glitch’ in musical terms, but actual mistakes, clips and interference. It wasn’t the official version of Kid A, with artwork and UPC codes and copyright warnings, it wasn’t even my version since these glitches were shared with a lot of other people out there, from whoever had created the original rip. When that person made that rip, a personal stamp had been placed on it, an unintended remix via the mechanics of the copy made or the computer used to create the rip, or maybe even simply the tray the CDR rested in. If vinyl crackles and radio has static, then this kind of error is the legacy of the CD in part, the thing that seems to make it real, even as the action of ripping the album created something else entirely, the formless sound file, the theoretically unchangeable artifact that is never fixed in place.”

The outline:

INTRODUCTION – A USER IN 2000: The framing stories for the book consist of two separate incidents where I engaged with Radiohead via the computer – where the computer wasn’t incidental but essential, where the existence of the technology of the Net and personal computing and everything that went into that had to come first. The introductory story discusses the day I purchased tickets for the band’s Los Angeles Hollywood Bowl concert for the short American Kid A tour – this was done, not by standing in line outside ticket outlets or a box office or trying to call on the phone, but by patiently waiting in front of a computer on a recently installed cable internet network, accessing a vendor’s website. The goal here is to show how something so mundane is in fact remarkable, unusual – to remind all of us now what it was like then, before it was mundane.

SINKING INTO THE NETWORK: Rather than starting with Radiohead or Kid A, the book proper begins by discussing the evolution of personal computing and the Net with an eye on music – not so much musical creation as electronic discussion and sharing between companies, programmers and users, in the seventies and beyond. Where and what were the initial flashpoints, and what decisions in retrospect had the greatest impact down the line? Some representative examples include: the evolution of Usenet discussion groups and mailing lists on bands and styles, the use of the CD-ROM as a standard data format in personal computers, the development of the mp3 format and its adoption as a widespread standard for sharing music, the creation of the World Wide Web, the debut of the Internet Underground Musical Archive in 1993 as the first formal site for bands to share and sell their work online, the haphazard recognition of the music industry on dealing with the Internet in general and the increasing commercial interest in higher-end and faster Internet service for home users. Potential interview subjects – computer/Internet historians, record company employees, radio station employees, music press writers.

RADIOHEAD – JUST ANOTHER UK POSTPUNK/PROG/ELECTRONIC BAND?: This chapter reviews the position of Radiohead as a simultaneously new and familiar band throughout the 1990s. There’s a well worn pathway the group followed in its initial fame – its appeal to Anglophiles and college radio in America, its love/hate relationship with the music press, the ‘breaking’ of America and a one-hit wonder tag, gained with the success of “Creep.” As time passed and their work became more overtly complex, the tone of discussion shifted towards the gravely serious, with OK Computer’s critical and commercial success being a key turning point, even as the band’s humor arguably became more overt and direct while their disenchantment with a perceived role as musical standard-bearers became equally notable. Meanwhile, the band’s increasing interest in electronic music – both in earlier 20th century experiments and in then-contemporary popular efforts, most notably the putative genre of ‘intelligent dance music’ or IDM – became clearer over time, pushing the perceived identity of Radiohead as a ‘rock’ band to increasing extremes. Potential interview subjects – band members and associates, webmasters of long-running fan sites, mailing list moderators, music press members.

TOWARDS A NEW MILLENNIUM: Radiohead established a website early on in its career – who were the prime movers in the band and its associates behind this move, and what were their goals and expectations? How quickly did their fans find them and each other online, and what communities did they build, and with what tools? When the sessions for what became Kid A and, later, Amnesiac progressed, the band used their site and the fan networks associated with it to preview material online, inviting fans to tune in and catch what they could – and clearly expecting they would be there. But who were these fans, with what technology and Internet connections in the late nineties would they use to listen in? As the sessions moved towards completion, the wider world saw the rise of Napster, the popularity of mp3s and the widespread knowledge of file-sharing. High-profile leaks had already occurred for bands like Metallica, Oasis and the Cure – how did Radiohead and EMI react to all this as the release date approached? Was there any overall clear approach or was it improvised? Potential interview subjects – band members and associates, webmasters of long-running fan sites, mailing list moderators, music press members, EMI employees, computer/Internet historians, music press writers.

KID A’S LIVES – Kid A’s songs were formally introduced to Radiohead’s fans via an initial European tour, with performances recorded and almost immediately shared online, to widespread interest. A month before its formal release, Kid A then appeared as a leaked document, a bare presentation of imageless files, even as elaborate limited editions of the album were announced, in both vinyl and CD formats, while formal single and video releases were eschewed in favor of Internet-targeted advertising which began appearing in the form of embedded sound clips and video files. The debate over the sound of the album and Radiohead’s choices for performance and arrangements was immediate – had they sold out, turned their back on rock, made a huge artistic mistake? What, then, was – and is – Kid A? A studio creation, a collection of songs, a concept album, an encapsulation of music and technology in and of itself and as reflected via mp3 sharing, the sharing of live tracks, the on-the-spot tracking. Was it ‘just’ an album in the end? Potential interview subjects – band members and associates, webmasters of long-running fan sites, mailing list moderators, music press members, EMI employees, computer/Internet historians, music press writers.

KID A LIVE(S): Following the leaking of the files, Kid A debuted at the top of the charts in the US and the UK upon release, as well as in many other countries. The band brought the now-familiar songs to America and Canada for a brief three-date tour which was also the end of Kid A’s promotional cycle, including a high-profile Saturday Night Live appearance with two songs that were not singles, even promotionally, and the previously mentioned Hollywood Bowl show, which will be discussed in detail. That would seem to be the ‘end’ of Kid A but what is its afterlife as a ‘classic’ album, or more? There’s the question of musical impact – the many bands and albums that followed where the combination of musical and thematic influences, especially in terms of the freer use of electronics, will be discussed. There’s the continuing popularity of the album among the fans, how certain songs have become established favorites in concert, how the ‘unfamiliar’ and seemingly shocking became ‘normal.’ Finally, there is the now-established model for how we generally encounter music – not street dates, but leak dates and more recently formal digital releases, where the physical product has been increasingly overtaken by the ephemeral, a situation highlighted (not prompted, it should be clear) by the fact that within months of Kid A’s release, Apple introduced the iPod. Potential interview subjects – band members and associates, webmasters of long-running fan sites, mailing list moderators, music press members, EMI employees, computer/Internet historians, music press writers.

CONCLUSION – A USER IN 2008: Mirroring the introduction as noted, this will discuss the day I watched Radiohead’s free broadcast of a Santa Barbara show at the conclusion of its In Rainbows tour in late August 2008 via my computer. It was the same desk and same chair I used back in 2000, the same computer monitor, but a different computer, sound system and Internet connection, something that was a ‘new’ mundane much like the experience of watching a web broadcast in general. Kid A songs were played along with plenty of other tracks, it was just part and parcel of the experience, as was the fact I was copying the broadcast onto my computer and the fact that clips appeared on YouTube almost immediately via other users. Kid A itself and everything about it was seemingly ancient history now, a time before iPods and iTunes and BitTorrents and questions about DRM and more besides – but how far away is it, as historical marker and as artistic creation? If, as the band claimed at the time of release, ‘Kid A’ him or herself was supposed to be the first cloned human baby, are we all now Kid As in a new century, replicating our experiences in a seemingly futile – and unnecessary? – search for what is ‘real’?

Monday, Monday…

It might be the heat — in fact I’m willing to be it IS the heat, even inside it’s not as cool as it could be, which almost always means it’s sweltering out there — but this is a morning for non-deep-thoughts, in the end. Somehow it seems like a lot of things have temporarily wrapped up or been put on hold in terms of thought processes, which probably means I’m either overloading and waiting to figure out what to talk about next or else I’m less glib than I realized. (Probably the latter, and that’s just scratching the surface.)

Still, some quick thoughts:

  • Heard a slew of good stuff last night — the new Skyphone record gave me the same thrill as hearing Languis when they went ‘rock,’ though the two artists are coming from different places and are after differing but equally strong results. The new Child Readers tackles lo-fi aesthetics crossed with shadowy psychedelia as much derived from New Zealand as from the ‘lone insane guy in a studio goes nuts’ approach, while the Israeli band Goldoolins reconfirms that medieval folk, sunshine pop and a desert setting all work very well together. Meantime this morning I’m listening to Group Doueh once again and marvelling at this wonderful music (is Western Africa the new rock and roll central? I’d be all for it.). Reviews of all this to appear on the AMG soonish.
  • Thinking however of Group Doueh and Western Africa — this utterly depressing story in the Washington Post about Mauretania and its struggle in the era of the globalized food market is one of those pieces that causes you to count your blessings. I’ve mentioned the new issue of Yeti before; one of its core pieces is from Hisham Mayet, whose story about his time in Mauretania acts as an excellent complement to this one, especially in those details where things overlap, such as talking about the fishermen on the coast. At the risk of sounding preachy, it should simply be noted, as the WaPo story relates, that it is precisely the demand for the fish from richer countries which is contributing to the shortages in Mauretania — eating locally is a matter of choice for us, in Mauretania’s case it is a matter of survival. You may draw your own conclusions.
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of those writers I know of but shamefully have never gotten around to, though I’ve recently heard some praise for his autobiography The Beautiful Struggle (and the part of me that has major problems with one D. Eggers enjoys that Coates’s own brief description of his book is “A heartbreaking work of staggering…Oh, wait…”). His most recent piece for The Atlantic on Bill Cosby, “‘This Is How We Lost to the White Man,’” is simply essential reading, at once a powerful meditation on the state of black America in the present and a historical overview of Cosby’s beliefs and positions. Friend Dan, to paraphrase a comment elsewhere, notes that Coates manages the very hard task of addressing both the good things and the weaknesses in Cosby’s approach in a way where the latter cannot be the ignored but the former is not denigrated in turn. Stellar stuff, and I must thank Mr. Matos for the tip once again. (Also, as Coates is talking about the Rev. Wright dustup on his blog, I’ll defer to his thoughts on the matter because mine won’t be worth dried spit in comparison.)
  • Prince covers Radiohead. Really, don’t need to add anything else — except that the falsetto part about four minutes in kinda sums up why humanity has something going for it. (And to note that by not doing a straight cover as such — this is a reworking, an interpretation — it’s further proof that the man is as sharp as ever.)

Oh and on a final note if anyone’s in the NYC area and wanted to see Verve tonight, a friend of mine is selling a ticket at face value, so drop me a line.

EMP 2008 Pop Conference — Sunday panels and presentations

The final batch. The official schedule for the day is here. Final thoughts on EMP will have to wait until tomorrow — I’m definitely in relax and zone mode now before tomorrow’s flight back home! — but here’s one last batch of scattershot notes. There were only two panel rotations this morning as is the case with the Pop Conference in general; this time around there was no final group session.

Thanks to everyone for all their comments and corrections; I do welcome more of them at any point!



Andrea Bohlman
, “Live from Beirut: Activist Sounds in the Blogosphere” — Kerblog by Mazen Kerbaj in Beirut started in 2006 — “bang? Blog!” Punctuation and alliteration as interpretation, activism in the wake of the Israeli invasion. Musicality of response studied, especially “Starry Night,” a widely circulated mp3. News related from scene of action, urges documentation of destruction, questioning silence. First visual representation of silences (“keep your sound!”) from personal to media level worldwide. “Starry Night” was a solo piece played and composed during a night bombing attack — track played, sounds of bombs and drones, trumpet serene then squalling amid the massive explosions, silences then shock. Keep listening when nothing is heard, the “fucking silence” is needed. Improvisation as activist parallel. Song is a snapshot, how do we experience it on the Internet? Performed within that medium, we can stop, start, pause and comment, all blurring author and readers. Users are authors and readers, a kind of mobilization. Another fragment played, breath sounds and cars and planes and bombs. Explores improv and deconstruction, a reconsideration of the instrument and the process. Music a medium that acts out, Kerbaj quoted as saying it needed to be live. Sounds of war have become everyday.

Leonard Pierce
, “Wordless in Gaza: The Radical Electronica of Bryn Jones” — play some songs or not? Better to provide some context, at least. Has been obsessed with Muslimgauze for ten years but there’s a lot of music and almost nothing biographical. Basic overview provided. Life is a total cipher, worked in isolation, barely any live shows, few interviews. More prolific than Tupac after his death. Isn’t the work enough in this case? A true enigma. Made music in sympathy with Palestinians, was neither Arab nor Muslim, the Rootsman said he had no interest in Islam, never visited the area, did not use computers, “every track begins with a political fact,” but no understanding of Arabic. Invasions of Lebanon and Afghanistan were the turning points, eternally provocative to a fault, reveled in the image of violence. An anti-Semite? Signs are there — “Israel is everywhere.” Never donated to the PLO, refused to be involved further. A fraud? Pierce notes his own background and his own unsure feelings. Jones had no interest in an Arabic fanbase. Asked about living in a free Palestine, he laughed off questions about art in that context. Angry with questions about repetition. Records do cross all musical bounds, very widespread. No impact politically but a lot of musical connections. Didn’t think too far ahead, thought career wouldn’t end since peace wouldn’t arrive. Would have continued had he lived.

Jose Anguiano Cortez, “Ay Morrissey!: Latino Morrissey Fanaticos and the Renewed Possibilities of Fandom, Race and Cultural Citizenship ” — entered in progress. Overview of Smiths/Moz impact among LA Mexican Americans. Diverse group but the most disenfranchised are the biggest followers, rebuilt fanbase in their own ways. Initial resistance turned to passion, “lonely” music built into communal melodrama and independent fanbases. Manchester memories of misery translate well to the grinding oppression in SoCal. Anti-Latino actions noted, trying to succeed hard. East LA to IE corridor provides a large fanbase. An “anti-essentialist” strategy, an embrace to mark their own American and Mexican identity. Moz addresses subject more openly — “Mexican Blood American Heart” T-shirts by fans, also banda reembrace to fight back against racist denigration. Both strategies against problem but in different aesthetic ways, claiming space. Complexity and diversity found all around, what can it teach us about Chicano music? Not simply essentialized.

Barry Salmon, “Trauma and Cine-Musical Image: Music, Moving Image and Moral Universality” — Jeffrey C. Alexander asks how the Holocaust become a generalized symbol of trauma, noting the evolution of the ‘trauma drama’ (link is via Sage and will not be open access to all users). Hegel and Durkheim noted. “An engorgement of evil.” Image forms archetype away from specifics. Aristotle and Jonathan Lear noted on tragedy, catharsis and mimesis. Aristotle holds music as crucial, cleaving to mimesis. How these stories are retold is important, sheer size of audience and depth of experience means movie and TV versions important. Anne Frank diary as key, figure and situation Americanized in movie version, music important. Hanns Eisler and Adorno to be cited. First clip played, from end of movie — slow violin and strings orchestration, vaguely Jewish violin, Anna leitmotif, very sentimental and somber during reading of diary in attic, then the triumphant conclusion, D major chord. Adorno noted saddened friend, talks of music in individuation. Schindler’s List as obvious trauma-drama, culture industry, imagine unimaginable, but what of John Williams‘ score? Does not suture film, not only cinematic glue. Clip shown of Itzhak Perlman praising the score and the idea that Williams felt the history. Clip shown stitching together a wide variety of YouTube performances — violin, guitar, piano, more. “Girl in red dress” sequence shown, children’s song as musical base, point of empathy and using children’s chorus is now standard in such films and situations. Director of Shoah says he would have destroyed a real gassing clip; Perlman cue for Schindler’s clip noted, film sequence itself heavily critiqued and cut for presentation. Solo violin as affective moment. Music governs cue in both cases. Resnais and Eisler in Night and Fog aim for something different, music in gas chamber clip suggests Mahler at start, covers bluntness of the gassing in almost playful ironic counterpoint at moments, pastoral versus fingernail marks. Cinema being montage and inevitable cliche, function of rationally planned irrationality (cf Adorno). Reveals machinery of representation in the film, dreary narration, intercuts, all undermine the obvious as such. If potential of Holocaust exceeds language, how we tell things are very important. Adorno on poetry after Auschwitz, both takes including the 1965 variation. Night and Fog as the best take on the evil of banality. (Tom Smucker notes a Jewish violinist stereotype.)

Mary Greitzer, “Sound After Silence: Solo Voice, Sexual Violence” — power of solo voice in autobio work. If responding to trauma, how inscribed? Sexual violence as seen in “Me and a Gun” by Tori Amos and “Daddy Dearest” by Lydia Lunch. Tori clip played first, second verse. What can we learn? Little physical details, instead mental portrait. Lyrics can speak to any victim, but palatable because the details are omitted. Why this successful construction of identity? Solo voice recreates status, isolation and nudity, voice breaks at many points, bring the rape near, a woundedness. Maintaining a detachment with control and resistance, lament and prayer providing healing and surviving. Formal structure is A to A around a middle C, comfortable and comforting like a lullaby, sung by a caring woman but still harrowing. Lunch’s piece a monologue, her musical qualities, especially in rhythm, is key. Progression of letter insidious, building into the horrible moments then pulling back suddenly. Control exhibited throughout as she tracks the moments and changing gears suddenly, building uneasy anticipation. Molesting first told in an out of context “sexy” voice, horrified to find ourselves aroused, thus guilty. A trace of the complicated reaction to molestation. He preys on her, she preys on us. Cyclic perpetuation, a terribly human origin. Meaning inaccessible through text alone, a symbolic induction. He taught her come, she was almost destroyed, climax builds into sobbing rage that is also a mindblowing orgasm through manipulation. Conclusion — basic feminist tenets incorporated in culture, thus Amos fits into this, speaking up and surviving, strength and inspiration. Lunch is the complicated response, addressing other truths, a deviant sexuality, a double-edged sword, excoriation and pleasure, a defense of perversions. Cause and reconciliation are critically different, confronting the erotic response. See also Bob Flanagan and his response to pain, transcendence through reconciliation. Celebrate Lunch’s reclaiming of self as feminist like Amos — “refuse to be victim of own self.”

Marianne Tatom Letts, “’You Forget So Easily’: Radiohead‘s Amnesiac as a Failed ‘Directed Forgetting’ of Trauma” — Kid A as departure with more electronic/opaque approach. Amnesiac — “forced to forget where we have come from,” so Amnesiac blurs where Kid A‘s painful birth came from but not entirely. Memory and trauma — wanting to forget but also manipulating. Amnesiac supposedly more conventional, Yorke caustic about expectations. All tracks recorded together, Amnesiac compiled after Kid A release, so erasing the first album was a false goal. Amnesiac treating Kid A as aberration. Amnesia as surviving commodity in industry. Warmer than Kid A (?) but we must read beyond. Subject repressing Kid A, redeeming lost subject. First song has disappointment in nothingess, comment on pop music world? Handout has songmapping chart between the albums, noting specific sonic and lyrical connections. Clips played for illustration. “Packt” as claustrophobic, near death experience. Reaction to near deaths in Kid A? Language as illogical syntax. Epiphany to do with subject, not listener. (Do not agree with Letts’s assumption of overall unitary lyrical subject unless it is a direct address to the audience from Yorke as public figure.) Subject in Amnesiac already dead, where in Kid A death is considered as solution. Singles as statements of intent. Insistence of truth in representation in recording while listener looks out for oneself, a violence in exploitation (thus “Knives Out” and the use of the body and devouring). Subject can be consumed, while consuming. Song played in full. Amnesiac is unsympathetic eulogy for subject. Concept is larger than the albums, Radiohead as not just band but brand, already dead and served.

For now, a last IN RAINBOWS thought

As muttered, for now — I will think about a more in-depth revisit still but it won’t be for some weeks (and as it stands November will be full with my NaNoWriMo project anyway, which I’m strongly thinking about featuring on the blog).

Among everything else it hits me that — at least in Northern Hemisphere terms! — this is a perfectly autumnal release. Fellow ILX denizen Nickalicious once suggested that Radiohead for him were a good fall/winter listen in general whereas spring/summer would have been out of place. I tend not to listen to things seasonally, a couple of specific releases aside (Christmastime ones, for instance!), but I see what he’s driving at, and while I doubt it was specifically intended, the release of In Rainbows at a time when things are starting to slow down a bit, ease back more — the days get shorter, the contemplative evenings longer — is very well-timed. It almost matches the flow of the album, where an initial frenetic energy calms down more and more, though not uniformly so, and ends on a last quiet point.

The eventual December release of the full box set — which I am now starting to seriously consider, but only if the money is to hand after gift-buying and other end-of-year obligations — may make even greater sense as a result. We’ll see!

(As for me, I’m feeling pretty zonked at the end of the week here! But hopefully a coherent post or two on other matters later in the afternoon.)

My IN RAINBOWS review is up

Hooray!

Thing is, as Jess noted on Idolator here and here, there’s the danger of these kind of reviews being of the ‘wide-eyed, uncritical, “slightly wordier NME fan” quality’ — and frankly that IS the state of my review. It was drafted after two listens and revised after two more, and combined with a time limit (in order to make the print edition next week it needed to be in by yesterday evening) and a short word count (happily — a long review would have been even more of a random babble). I gave short shrift to the final two songs on the album, “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” and “Videotape,” both of which are turning into a very lovely overall ending for the whole album as I relisten, and a variety of shortcuts and quick judgments permeate my take on it.

I say this not to dismiss my piece, but merely to acknowledge the inherently compromised nature of this kind of review. Friend Brian, who I’ve been invoking in my blog stories, said the other day he didn’t want to read any reviews of the album until November and I don’t blame him at all — I don’t think I’ll have anything close to a review along the line of my blog takes on the other albums up until November, and maybe not even then (after all, keep in mind nearly all the reviews except The Eraser involved albums that I’d literally known for years, not hours).

This said, I agree with what an Idolator commenter noted:

I think both snap judgements and more ruminant approaches are valuable and interesting (though there’s never been enough of the latter): both reflect aspects of every person’s listening habits that deserve analysis and commemoration.

So consider this my snap judgment, and I have no problem calling it that and judging it on its terms.

And IN RAINBOWS is here

I gotta say — after all the talk over whether or not there’d be a server meltdown or whatever, well, I woke up with the link in my inbox, clicked it, and it downloaded like a charm, three minutes or so over DSL. On that level it’s already a smash success!

Will be giving it some listens during the day but I will *not* be liveblogging that or any such silliness. If all goes as planned there will be a review tomorrow on the OC Weekly website.

[EDIT: though I will just say this for now, having listened twice -- it's very good.]

[EDIT 2: third listen...this is very VERY good.]

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