Just bought the new Radiohead album In Rainbows. Paid 5 pounds. The site is moving at a snail’s pace, they must be seriously stressed with people buying the album.
I’m giving the album a first listen. Writing down my reaction to each track.
Here we go:
1. 15 Step – A very bright opening for a Radiohead album. The track is in 5 (or 10 depending on your philosophy…). It starts out with a reverby 808 clap and beat-sliced high-frequency drums. The track get progressively more analog, so to speak. More realistic drums are introduced, then a pretty straight-forward electric guitar, then driving bass. Settles into a nice groove, if it does get a little “groove”y if you know what I mean.
2. Bodysnatchers – Fuzzed out guitar and bass begin this track. This track could seriously be at home in The Bends. Still upbeat, could this be an uplifting Radiohead album? Yorke’s vocals are, as usual, obscured, so he could be singing about suicide for all I know. But it definitely sounds more positive than Hail to the Thief. Striking though, is the similarity of the first two tracks to Kid A, with the intro electronica-influenced track followed by the rock-out second jam.
3. Nude – Very unique, unsettling intro. Lots of effects at the beginning, eventually settling into a really nice tune, relying mainly on simple guitar, bass, drums, and reverb soaked vocals. Gets a little ethereal towards the B section, but the effects seem to be hardware-produced, which is a nice change. Nigel Godrich you demon you, this track is so clean, an early favorite.
4. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi – Starts with a drum sample-style breakbeat. In fact it’s so clean, I might just take it… I think it is safe to say at this point that this album will be considered one of their “guitar-heavy” albums. Harmonically, this song is very beautiful, expansive and patience, the chord changes are unexpected and very welcome. Still uplifting, although Yorke described the album as “terrifying”. Aww he’s just afraid of be called a big softy.
5. All I Need – 2nd in a row with an opening drum solo, although this one has an ambient background. Most notably absent in this album seems to be the lack of memorable melodies and lyrics. This is usually a doomsday sign for bands in their later years, but this album is so far making up for it with excellent production and arrangements. But I have to wonder: it really is a pleasure to hear on my nice headphones, but would I want to listen to it on my laptop speakers or crappy iPod headphones, like so many people inevitably will? I wonder if the beauty and subtlety of the tracks will be lost in those formats.
6. Faust Arp – First acoustic guitar-based song on the album. Wow, kind of Beatles-influenced, with accompanying string (synth?) counter-melody. The guitars’ chord progression really reminds me of Mother Nature’s Son from The White Album.
7. Reckoner – Jesus, this one opens with a loud drum solo. Ouwey. Followed by electric guitar picking (noticing a trend?). The album is now starting to solidify in how Yorke described it (“almost embarrassingly minimal”). Hopefully the almost is a big almost – I think it is. Reckoner develops into a nice, lush orchestral section in the middle, with some really nice multi-tracked Thoms. This is shaping up to be a brilliant background music album. A great soundtrack to listen to as you walk down the street in fall, or to put on in your bedroom just before gettin “amorous”.
8. House Of Cards – Ouch. The 160 bitrate is painfully noticeable in the opening guitar solo in this track. At first I though it might be amp distortion, but I know that sound! This is maybe the track most influenced by post-rock, although it sounds unlike any post-rock song I have ever heard. Reverb might as well be listed as a fifth instrument hear, as it is covering every single sound we hear. It’s a pretty little song, ironically maybe the most memorable, and also the most sparse and hypnotic.
9. Jigsaw Falling Into Place – Starts off sounding like an acoustic 2 + 2 = 5, but then taking a left turn into obscureness with Yorke’s trademark howls. But then a clear, present version of his voice comes in with the melody, his most clear lyrics yet on this album: “Just as you take my hand…”. The song, like many others, is tight and neat, developing into a nice stringy jam towards the end. A good amount of strings on this album.
10. Videotape – Wow. I couldn’t really write during that one. By far the most hypnotic song on the album. A four note piano sostenuto (with a very, very minor variation) rides over the entire song, Yorke mumbling characteristically throughout the song, a picked bass on every quarter-note, and an extremely limited drum part (with its phased, effected counterpart in the left channel). Towards the end, the song seems to make an attempt to break out of its hypnotic prison but never manages to, this could be the “terrifying” thing Yorke was talking about – it is kind of frightening.
This is definitely a unique Radiohead album, no doubt about it. It will never be as widely hailed as OK Computer or Kid A, I feel pretty sure of that. It will not be a major cultural milestone as those albums were and it doesn’t seek to be. It is just a nice, chill album to listen to. It is the type of album you will find in your iTunes, a couple years from now and think, “Wow, this is a really great album. Why didn’t I listen to it more?”. Why? Because it’s not here to thrill, it not here to make an impression. It’s as thematically shoe-gaze as it is musically. It is here to exist as an album of good music.
Now, that said, it may not bode well for the future of Radiohead. Pretty much all rock stars settle into a comfortable style and end up sticking with it till the bitter end – usually with less than exciting results. Instrumentally, Radiohead is looking to their past – I’d say somewhere in between The Bends and OK Computer. The music, production, and style is all forward-looking, but they are actively keeping it guitar, bass, drums, and voice. The electronics and ambient pad sounds are used much more sparingly than in past albums. They do wonderful things with these instruments, but the music that results will not get you jumping around the apartment. It will however, put a smile (melancholic or not) on your face. Just as with Hail to the Thief I am thinking, “Now I really want to hear what they will do next…”.
It is definitely the type of album that certain people will claim as their favorite, just because how understated it is. It’s not my favorite. I think OK Computer will forever be that, likely because it is the first one I heard. This is a delightfully strange album though, in a way that isn’t readily apparent. I look forward to listening to it on different speakers and headphones and seeing how I feel about it. Personally, most striking is Godrich’s production. Radiohead should do what The Beatles never had the balls to do. Invite their producer to be a member of the band. He is perhaps the one contributing the most.