Tag Archives: radiohead

The Long and Rhythmic Road: Getting Into Rap

It’s never been an easy time with rap and I. Of course, I bought The Marshall Mathers LP when it came out, right around my entry into high school, but it was just an end-in-itself. I never sought out any more like, nor did I follow up with any other Eminem albums. I was into it, and then it was gone just as quickly. I was there for the 2000s rap-rock craze, but it never really did much for me (my Marshall Mathers LP story could apply just as easily to Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory). Since that time, rap – much like its cousin in cliche music non-preferences, country – has never really gotten me excited. Every time I heard it, I would just hear the genre as heavy beats, some dude talking fast and saying ‘yeah’ a lot and reciting their own name incessantly. I would never engage with it, as any time I heard any one of those things, I would just tune it out immediately and say “oh, rap.”

Of course, when at odds with a genre, you just hear the worst in it. You pick out those things you already know you don’t like, and that just reinforces the feeling. It doesn’t help that you’ve probably decided that you dislike the genre based the most popular iterations of it, which is what you would probably hear of it most often, as you’re not going to be seeking out something you don’t think you’re going to want to listen to.  I’d made the decision previously that I didn’t like it and really didn’t feel the need to revise it for the longest time.

It’s not that I hadn’t encountered sort of the basic elements in a different context, with rapid-fire lyrics (for rock music) delivered mostly for emphasis on rhythm rather than melody in amongst my usual listened-to bands – R.E.M.’s “E-Bow the Letter” or Radiohead’s “A Wolf at the Door.” come to mind. I never ventured further, as I just thought them to be neat extensions and experiments of the bands I was listening to rather than something to explore in isolation. The first crack in the armour came with Radiohead’s most recent effort, The King of Limbs. Though there isn’t any rapping on it, whole album is based on wonky rhythms – chopped up drum parts by drummer Phil Selway re-arranged as such as to need two drummers to play the tracks on tour. After a few cursory listens, the rhythm bug got its hooks into me and I couldn’t get enough of it (in fact, this is also what drove me to start making music, realizing  I could generate some pretty good beats with my computer to build on top of).

Now having that solid basis in beat appreciation, there was something more to be found in the rap world for me, but it was still rough going. Kanye West’s “All of the Lights” was the example that I frequently brought up to people. I love the backing track – the instruments, the vocals, the hook, the beats, everything that was going on in the background totally had me hooked. At which Kanye actually came in and started rapping and it all fell apart for me. All it felt that it was doing was dulling the impact of the rest of the song. I couldn’t understand why it couldn’t have been just let be. The problem was that I was still refusing to engage with it as rap. I was trying to listen to it as a pop song or some such and then this rapper kept intruding. I was willing to acknowledge the skill in crafting the song, but that was about it. I still wasn’t ready for rap.

There may be a bright light, however. I recently re-listened to the Doomtree album No Kings, and I think I’m finally getting the hang of things. I think I’m ready to actually listen to rap for what it is rather than what I can appreciate from the view of another genre. I am into the hooks big time, but starting to appreciate the actual rapping that comprises the bulk of the songs. Take a song like “Bolt Cutter”, which reads like a radical manifesto – “my baby gave me a bolt cutter/we like to break in/and reclaim all the spaces they forgot they had taken” – a fact I had never paid attention to before. The rapping during the verses serves to colour in and give a reality to the idea that is only hinted at in the chorus, much as the instruments in most songs do. I’m beginning, too, to appreciate the variance in rhythm and flow that each of the rappers in the group brings to the table, especially when stacked up against one another in the same song, not to mention the impact a second or two of silence from the rapper can have on the rhythm.

It’s taken me awhile, but maybe I’ve listened to the right combination of songs, or maybe the time is right now for me to start to appreciate rap on its own terms. Luckily, Doomtree has seven members, all of whom have solo projects, so I feel I’ll be off to the races fairly quickly as my knowledge about the genre expands.

“E-Bow the Letter”

“A Wolf at the Door.”

“All of the Lights”

“Bolt Cutter”

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List-O-Mania: 5 Alternate Versions of Songs Better Than Their Original Counterparts

As per my discussion of music mythology previously, a good alternate version of a song is a music nerd’s dream. “Oh man, you gotta hear this outtake version!”, “The demo is wayyyy better!” etc, etc. Sometimes it’s not quite cooked until after the album’s been cut and it gets worked over on the road or perhaps the line-up will change and offer a new angle to the song or it even just gets injected with a little more energy and suddenly you hear the song with new ears and realize what was in there in the first place. Listed below are five such songs for which I always have a ‘preferred version’.

Of course, ‘better than’ is one of the most subjective of terms, so I’ll explain some of my feelings towards it right up front: you can’t beat a good melody. Anything that uncovers, unclutters or enhances the melody of the song being sung is always going to raise it in my estimation – in most cases, the melody IS the point of song, and to improve that improves everything. Often, groups will get too interested in tinkering and lose the focus a little bit and only realize it later on down the road.

I’ve chosen ‘alternate version’ as opposed to saying ‘live version’, as I realized that some of these are done live in a studio (4), and two are just straight up studio re-dos of older songs (2 and 3), so the lines are a little blurred, to say the least, and I figured ‘alternate version’ would cover myself pretty nicely. All of these, however, are new performances of the songs by the original group/artist rather than covers or remixes (a list in and of itself!).

1) Talking Heads – Burning Down the House (Stop Making Sense)

Though I could easily include any performance from the phenomenal Stop Making Sense on this list, the huge “Burning Down the House” makes it on simply because the original song on its own sort of left me wanting. Yeah, you have the big group coming in on the titular line, but large parts are just sort of monotone and staccato, as, leading up to the chorus, Byrne recites each syllable exactly in time to the beat, with very little in the way on inflection. During the energy of the live show, however, the song gains just a little momentum and a whole bunch of energy – it’s going at a quicker tempo than normal. And it’s a little too fast for Byrne to do the lyrics staccato like in the original version, so he has to syncopate – and what a difference it makes. The build-up to the “burning down the house!” is so much livelier – this time around it really sounds like a party (“Three hundred *pause* sixty-five degrees!”)! That little touch in tempo gels the song together so much more nicely and trades any sort of clinical feel the original might have had. The tom barrage that opens onto the main section of the song, the synthesizer solo, Byrne’s frenetic strumming – they all shine like they didn’t quite get a chance to originally.

2) Peter Gabriel – In Your Eyes (New Blood)

Admittedly, this was actually the first version of the song that I heard. My reverence for the original, however, didn’t get very far. Though the melody and rhythm are very strong in the original version, the production, synthesizers and drum machines really do sound dated, which I find very distracting when listening to it – more like I’m hearing a relic of the era rather than concentrating on the important parts. On the appropriately titled New Blood, Gabriel goes back and literally orchestrates some hits from his back catalogue, without any traditional rock instruments present. Immediately, the song is given more gravity as a myriad of strings pick up the melody and swell as the chorus is reached, while the lack of drums creates a sense of spontaneity and the impression of the song being moved by emotion more than anything. Being played with classical instrumentation puts more focus on the melody and at once adds a sense of timelessness to the song. That sense was richly deserved all along, but the context needed to be changed in order to appreciate it.

3) Across the Universe – The Beatles (Let It Be… Naked)

There have actually been three or four versions of this song released, but this has gotta be the one. A beautiful acoustic track by John Lennon with psychedelic lyrics, this is the one version unadorned by wildlife noises, children singing along, and Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” behind it, stuffing every imaginable instrument in the background behind John and his guitar and creating more and more distraction. I find very much that less is more in this instance and the vocals and guitar say all that there really is to say about this track and anything else seems like a frill for the sake of it – even in the other versions, the core of the song sets itself apart at a distance from the rest of the noises. There are also two different speeds to the song, and this one is the slower of them, which allows the song to breathe a lot more and allows you to appreciate the trippy lyrics.

4) Radiohead – Give up the Ghost (From the Basement)

This may be an odd choice, as I listen to both this and the original version with the same frequency, but, for me, this “live in studio” version of the song gets a little more feeling out of it, for one simple reason. The song is based around looped vocals, each of which is double tracked. Because this is being recorded live, Thom Yorke has to do each part twice – you can hear each brick being put into place as more and more layers are added, as well as an extended coda with a little extra ad libbing by Yorke. You also get to spend more time with the song’s hypnotic rhythm and almost mantra-like vocals. Like #3, it is stripped of its ambient sound effects and you’re left with the plain message of the repeated “don’t hurt me/don’t haunt me” that heightens the already raw sense of vulnerability in the song. There’s also something charming about Yorke’s self-effacing “please tell me that sounded alright” after the song comes to a stop.

5) Simon & Garfunkel – For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her (Live 1969)

In the duo’s most plain and beautiful love song, the curious choice was made on the studio version to double-track Art Garfunkel’s voice, rather than have Simon sing along as was usual. The problem is that the double-tracking gets a little loose at the climactic moments in the song and, while sounding smoother, I find actually hides the accuracy and beauty of Garfunkel’s voice in what is surely one of Paul Simon’s best melodies. In the live version, Garfunkel still goes it solo, but no effects are put on his voice whatsoever, as it gently and sensitively carries the melody and crescendoes beautifully with just the right amount of trill. It also sounds less hurried, as they would have become much more comfortable with the song playing on the road for three years than when debuting it on the album. This version ends with something I always thought was interesting to hear on live albums – pure applause without a single person’s voice interrupting it.

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Music Mythology: 5 Great Rhythm Section Performances

I’ve always been intrigued with music mythology. Hearing about some band’s ‘legendary bootleg’ from Brighton in ’72 – “man, they were never better than that night” – or “Paul McCartney said this was the best bassline he’d ever written” or that it has been X amount of days since The Grateful Dead played “Dark Star”. All of these are really just ways of expressing fondness for a piece/oeuvre of music, but in such a way that goes a bit beyond “I like this”. It’s the conjuring up of this statements and passing down through the ages that makes them so interesting to me. They all begin with a kernel of simple fondness and then grow as that fondness becomes contextualized within the rest of a band’s work. When delivered to me in those sentences, it just gets me beyond to excited to join up with that experience and join in the magic all those people are already in on.

As my way of propagating this practice, I’ve compiled a small list of songs that I think have outstanding rhythm section performances. And really, it’s one of the things that is easier to mythologize. A great guitar solo is pretty self-evident, as is an outstanding vocal performances. Riffs and basslines will grab you pretty hard and even a great drum performance will not escape keen ears, but the rhythm section? Basically bisecting the band and looking not just at individual instrumental performances, but looking at the core and pulse of a song as the group of lesser-touted instruments make it all work. “This song has a killer rhythm section” is one of those perfect little things to pass on:

1) The Who – The Real Me

Welcome to classic rock’s premier rhythm section. Musically, John Entwhistle and Keith Moon absolutely dominated The Who’s records, with Moon restless bashing and Entwhistle’s high fills. No more so than on “The Real Me”. The first real song to kick off the concept double album, they start fast and heavy and just go up from there. By the end, Keith is basically doing a constant drum solo while John Entwhistle is flying up and down his fretboard. Check out the second verse (starting at 1:30), which is just Moon and Entwhistle underneath Daltrey’s voice, and you get an idea of the sheer power of the duo. Constantly moving, constantly adding dribs and drabs in every conceivable second, you can see how The Who gained the “Maximum R&B” label early on in their career.

2) Radiohead – The National Anthem

And here, we have the exact opposite. Colin Greenwood sticks on that four-note bassline throughout the entire song with aplomb, with the rest of the world fizzing and popping and cracking and melting around it. It’s the one constant for the entire duration – almost mantra-like. Phil Selway meshes into it perfectly with his ride-heavy jazz-tinged drumming that is nevertheless a pretty straight-ahead 4/4 affair. The thrill of this two working with mechanical precision is the couple of times that Selway simply stops for a bar, creating mad hot space, before starting back up again. Pretty much their only trick in the bag for this song, for which they have to keep the sanity somewhat moored while a bass section goes ballistic around them. A bass player and a drummer just playing in the pocket can be a hell of a thing.

3) Elvis Costello & the Attractions – Lipstick Vogue

Starting off with a Pete Thomas beration of his toms and snare, Bruce Thomas (no relation) soon picks up the aggression with his burbling bassline.This is a punk rhythm section that is about as articulate you can get as Pete throws in jazzy little fills into his straight ahead 100-mile-an-hour beat and Bruce’s bassline paces up and down while occasionally rearing up and tossing back its head. The whole aggression of the song rides on the Thomases stepping on gas while Costello spits out his usual vitriol, and does less guitar-playing than usual, mostly stepping back while the rhythm section does all the talking.

4) Austra – Beat and the Pulse

It starts out oddly, with Dorian Wolf imitating a bass synth…with his bass, playing a sweet staccato line that runs through the entire song and gives it its momentum, articulating the chords nicely and letting everything build on top (the actual synths). Maya Postepski comes on top with a snare that cuts through every other sound in the song and a shuffling electronic beat that cuts in and out, providing another option for your ears to catch onto under the backbeat. The strange interpolation of musicians playing their instruments in the manner of instruments that synthesize being played by musicians just gives an indication of how impressive the musicianship actually is and that new ways of driving songs with a rhythm instrument in your hand are being found all the time.

5) Our Lady Peace – Starseed

Jeremy Taggart is probably my favourite drummer of all time. His fills are never egregious, but never unimpressive and his snare patterns would make fantastic riffs on their own. Through Chris Eacrett was replaced on subsequent OLP efforts by Duncan Coutts, they do share one defining similarlity – they like to get low. As such, the bass does a lot of lurking in the depths of this song while Taggart’s snare-and-hi-hat-heavy performance puts him front and center in the mix. Eacrett puts out wave after wave of resonance, where Taggart’s lively performance frames it and shapes it with snare pummelings, working together to create something just as much felt as heard.

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Toxic Rock Syndrome: Street Spirit (Fade Out)

I don’t know how it took this long for me to get to Radiohead on this blog*, but I figure it’s time to correct that error. I got into the band through a back door, actually, starting with Thom Yorke’s The Eraser, and then moving straight on to the polarizing Kid A, mostly interested in their electronic stuff and ability to use their studio as another instrument. I eventually branched out to either side of their discography, but always held fast as that era being their best and most creative. Why, then, does The Bends‘ album closer, “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”, have by far the most listens on my iTunes? The Bends was the band’s second album and showed them on their way up in the mid-90s, a guitar-laden cornerstone of the Britrock scene of that era, in among Pulp, Blur, Oasis and others and a prelude to the monolith that would become of OK, Computer. Why is is that on a quiet walk home, “Street Spirit” is my go-to song and not “Everything In Its Right Place”?

It’s perhaps their most clear precis on the sheer urban paranoia that is a throughline in much of their work, but usually presented in a much more cryptic way. Here, Yorke croons about “rows of houses/bearing down on me”. Here’s something you can easily connect to – there’s no imagery stand-ins. It’s just what’s around you. No need to make up something else to fear when you you’ve got houses right there, especially as he struggles to get the words out to anyone: “This machine will/will not communicate/the thoughts and the strain I’m under.” In contrast to the paranoia, Yorke calls on a camaraderie that may not exist, but that he must believe in to deal with the concrete prison around him: “All these things into position/all these things we’ll one day swallow whole.”

Honestly, though, it would be difficult to put anything but the main riff/picking pattern at the center of this song, with the descending A minor pattern pulling you down with every iteration. The chords change, but the pattern never does – no matter how you twist and turn, it gets you every time, creating a web over the whole song. Even when the song takes off at the end, and the synths soar, and the mumbled coda of “immerse your soul in love” reaches out of the darkness, it’s still lying underneath before everything drops out again, and you’re left what you started with.

Despite the bleakness of the whole affair, it continually scratches an itch I have whenever I’m not listening to a new or barely-remembered album – I can throw it on almost any time and immediately get into it. The atmosphere is full realized and it never breaks out of the initial mood it puts you into. The vocals and melody are quite strong and the performances are a fairly light touch for Radiohead, but delicately placed where they need to be. A single vision, no matter hopeless, makes for a powerful song.

*I am a person with a music blog, of course I like Radiohead.

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A meme made long.

I’ve been dragging my heels on this meme (conferred on me by the incomparible Alex Gunning), so I thought I’d make up for it by elaborating on it in blog form.

The 12 albums that have stuck with me:

(All images from wikipedia.org)

The Who – Quadrophenia

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A key part in the 1970s wave of double albums with black and white covers, Quadrophenia has been, for quite some time. The recurring musical themes established in the title track and their reprises with key phrases lend that grandiose and classical feeling to the proceedings, yelling the story of the mod named Jimmy. The quartet have never been better technically as they were on here, at a confluence with just the right amount of songwriting prowess and self indulgence in Pete Townshend’s head. They popularized the rock opera with Tommy, but perfected it here.

Tracks to check out: “The Real Me”, “The Punk and the Godfather”, “Love, Reign O’er Me”

They Might Be Giants – Lincoln

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Back in ’88, fewer people were enjoying the indie rock sound, but when they did, they often would turn to two guys named John from Brooklyn to get their fill. Lincoln runs the gamut from power pop on “Ana Ng” to the weird jazzy bellow of “You’ll Miss Me” to the martial beat of “Pencil Rain” and demonstrates TMBG’s knack on only their sophomore effort for writing catchy tunes with bizarre wordplay. Spread across 19 short songs, Lincoln is a lesson in accessible eclecticism and is just loads of fun to listen to.

Tracks to check out: “Ana Ng”, “Cage & Aquarium”, “They’ll Need A Crane”, “Kiss Me, Son of God”

Egg – Egg

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Deep in the mists of prog can be found a short-lived project with only three albums to its name and three members to its roster – Egg. Having seen the infancy of prog begin, they immediaty dove headfirst into baffling time signatures, symphonic aspirations sonic experimentalism with their organ-bass-drum trio and exploded onto the scene with their self-titled debut. Barely organized chaos is the order of the day as bassist Mont Campbell attempts to bring some sort of order with his airy vocals. The album is rough n ready and has a sort of urgency and live feel to it that gives you a pretty good idea of what it was like to see them live and feel as if you were part of something new happening.

Tracks to check out: “Fugue in D Minor”, “The Song of McGillicudie the Pusillanimous”

Genesis – Genesis Live

Genesis_-_Live

I was waffling back and forth on which Genesis album to put on this list, as my interest in early Genesis got me not only into prog, but also a good portion of the music I listen to today. Problem is, I find each of their early albums to have their hits and misses. Except for this one. All killer, no filler, Genesis Live is the only live album released during Peter Gabriel’s tenure with the band and features their best tracks from the previous three albums (save one omission), with the players just on fire on all counts. Gabriel’s stage banter is brief but witty, and these live renditions of the longer songs in their oeuvre have a great deal more energy to them than their studio counterparts – not to mention guitarist Steve Hackett and drummer Phil Collins getting to put their own stamp on the thunderous closer, “The Knife”, which was released before they joined the band.

Tracks to check out: “The Return of the Giant Hogweed”, “The Knife”

Elvis Costello and the Attractions – This Year’s Model

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Costello’s acerbic wit combined with his snotty snarl and his backing band at the height of their punky game makes his sophomore album one of the best I’ve ever heard. While Punk’s poet laureate offers a treatise on the nature of love and celebrity worship (with lyrical barbs like “You want her broken with her mouth wide open/’cause she’s this year’s girl” and “Sometimes love is just a tumor/You got to cut it out”), the Attractions are busy laying the frenetic groundwork on top of which it all sits (I swear, the rhythm section took out every rest they had on “Lipstick Vogue”), while creating enough earworms to have you bopping long after you’re done listening. To be honest, I stopped for the most part with Costello after this album, because he got it perfect with this one.

Tracks to check out: “This Year’s Girl”, “Pump It Up”, “Lipstick Vogue”

The Decemberists – Picaresque

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Strangely enough, all of my top favourite Decemberists tracks are on other albums, but none of them are quite as consistent as Picaresque, which shows them in all their jaunty glory. You get bombast on “The Infanta”, an epic sea shanty on “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”, a quieter lovelorn paean on “The Engine Driver” and some sort-non-specific old-timey stomp on “The Sporting Life”. Every song takes place in its own enjoyable world, rich with little words and sonic details that evoke that particular atmosphere, as well as an undoubtedly catchy melody and a few terms you’ll have to look up after the fact.

Tracks to check out: “The Infanta”, “16 Military Wives”, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”

Van der Graaf Generator – Godbluff

Godbluff

2 sides, 4 songs, roughly 10 minutes each. This symmetrical layout provides the framework for my favourite of the many Van der Graaf albums that I love. Though they always employed a somewhat unusual instrumentation, this album features the usual organ-drums-sax trio with the addition of singer Peter Hammill on clavichord, which provides plenty of rich menacing counterpoint. The album documents the horrors of war over top of wailing sax riffs, gnarled organ and the bellowing and caterwauling of Hammill stretching his voice in any direction it will go, each song having plenty of time to establish its own particular haunting narrative, lyrically and sonically.

Track to check out: “Scorched Earth”

Neil Young – Live at Massey Hall 1971

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One man, an acoustic guitar and a piano onstage at Toronto’s Massey Hall is all it took to make this one of my favourite live albums. With no back-up and a single instrument to sing along to, Young’s songwriting is on full display from the word go, as he runs through his early catalogue and (then) new songs that would appear on his blockbuster Heart of Gold. His self-effacing stage banter is effortlessly Canadian and charming, and every performance beautiful in its simplicity and allowance for the melodies to shine through.

Tracks to check out: “Don’t Let It Bring You Down”, “The Needle and the Damage Done”

Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid

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A fine showpiece of modern songcraft. Each song is quintessentially British and has many little studio touches that catapult them from good to fantastic. Guy Garvey’s husky croon touches on love of all kinds on this album: past, present, future, unrequited and platonic; all of this is backed by the appropriate somber piano melody or orchestral bombast that evolves as the song’s story goes on and on. One of the most consistent track-to-track albums I’ve ever heard that tackles as many different moods as this one does.

Tracks to check out: “The Bones of You”, “Grounds For Divorce”, “One Day Like This”

Muse – Absolution

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From the introduction consisting solely of military stomping and incoherent orders being yelled, I knew that I was listened to something that was going to be right in my wheelhouse. A concept album based around the theme of different people’s experiences of the end of the world with some of the craziest and most piercing riffs I’d ever heard in my life, with a falsetto to put Raine Maida’s to shame? Hell yes.

Tracks to check out: “Stockholm Syndrome”, “Hysteria”, “Butterflies & Hurricanes”

Radiohead – Kid A

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This one my first Radiohead album proper, but I actually skirted around Radiohead for sometime, using Thom Yorke’s solo electronic effort, The Eraser to kind of get in through the back door. When I was done with that, I wanted more Yorke and more electronic stuff, so what better way to turn? Radiohead’s cryptic masterpiece is unrivaled in the intense and paranoid atmosphere it creates with some beats, some synths, a studio and virtually no guitars. One of those albums that teleports you completely to another world.

Tracks to check out: “Everything In Its Right Place”, “The National Anthem”, “Idioteque”

Our Lady Peace – Naveed

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Probably the album on this list that’s been with me the longest and still one of my favourite rock albums ever. from the dizzying insanity of “The Birdman” to the intro to “Neon Crossing” which, at 15, was the craziest thing I’d ever heard up ’till that point, Naveed is a wonderful piece of alternative rock that always seems to zig when you think it’s gonna zag. Guitarist Mike Turner’s riffs seem to emanate from a different planet, Raine Maida caterwauls and bemoans the human condition while Jeremy Taggart fills in every conceivable space with unreal drum fills (especially impressive considering he was only 18 at the time).

Tracks to check out: “The Birdman”, “Starseed”, “Denied”

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#14: Atoms for Peace – Amok

(XL, 2013)

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(Image from gigwise)

This is a homecoming for me, of sorts, as I got into Radiohead (now one of my favourite bands) via The Eraser. Initially I had slung Kid A (now one of my favourite albums) through the headphones before throwing them off in frustration. It was only when I heard The Eraser that I found myself warming to Yorke’s voice and the jumbly, bloopy sounds happening all around.

But I need to get my beeps booped somehow, and with no Radiohead album in sight, what has now become a full-fledged Thom Yorke side project is rising to meet those needs. This album has its beginning in Thom’s solo electronic venture, The Eraser, and the band is comprised of musicians he used to tour that album, with Flea of RHCP fame covering the low end. Atoms for Peace (named after a track from The Eraser), however, is a different beat altogether from Yorke on his lonesome. The sound of a full roster here is evident from the get go, with each part moving and locking into place around you. The Eraser had Thom’s vocals soaring and diving against what seems like a mostly ‘flat’  backing track – the effect was that of Yorke singing  on top of playback from a tape recorder (though it was effective, nonetheless, for that album). There was a homogeny there, whereas the Z-axis is employed on Amok, and each piece is easier to consider separately.

Maybe that’s why Yorke’s vocals don’t lift off quite as much here. There’s no vocal hook here as memorable as the one from The Eraser’s title track (“and it’s doin’ me in/doin’ me in/doin’ me in/doin’ me in”) and he, for the most part, keeps his voice in its lower register, where it occasionally hovers dangerously close in range to some of the other instruments in the song. There are more low moans and held notes – very wispy and ephemeral, it blows through the hard cityscapes created by the rest of the instruments, occasionally snatching a newspaper up in the draft, but mostly inconsequential. The real show is happening elsewhere.

Flea’s presence here is a welcome one, and a lot of the reason for the thickness of the tracks. He provides a smooth depth to the overall sound, moving deftly through each track with confidence (whereas Yorke’s vocals mark uncertainty). As to be expected in electronic tracks, the basslines are oft repetitive, but never boring, as there is enough variation from your standard afterthought low end track for Flea’s presence to really make itself known. Having a dedicated bassist focusing on a single aspect of a given track really makes the instrument shine.

Often times, the loops here are given a long leash, so you are able to hear them build up of wind down as they go, effects fading after one pass and the returning again after the second (“Ingenue”). One thing I would have liked have seen more of, but was glad to have what we got were the interjections of non-tonal sounds thoughout, as the buzzes of electricity (“Dropped”) or electronic egg being hurled at and sliding down the wall (“Unless”) provide some nice atmosphere or small hint of a narrative with just a simple sound. It keeps the proceedings from sounding one hundred percent organized or plan and lends a little credence to the idea of the chaos inherent in the name of the album.

Apart from the electronic handclaps, which I don’t know if I’ll eve get used to, Amok has a great variety of percussive tones and busy beats working its way through each track. The album credits both a drummer (Joey Waronker) and percussionist (Mauro Refosco), as well as Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich both credited with programming, so a majority of the aural space is dedicated to adding to, countering and enhancing the beats, with only the synthesizer, bass and occasional guitar filling in the spaces in between. The different layers and types of percussion provide a very full sound, unlike The Eraser, and because of that, Amok may be and easier move for Radiohead fans than the former.

7/10

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