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Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The Music That Moved Me in 2003 - part 1

Radiohead - Hail to the Thief - The "media" touted this as Radiohead's return-to-rock album… I wondered why come back? …and wouldn't you know it there's still the electronica fusion present, the experimentation is still stimulating, and Radiohead is still pouring complex music into a funnel of simplicity, ambiguity, and delight. I love the fact that there's a band on this planet that will draw me to the record store to wait in line for a copy at 12am of the release date.

The first things I noticed about "Hail to the Thief" was the overall balance of the album. There's the cold ambiance of "Where I End and You Begin," and "The Gloaming," the layered flurries and intensity of "2 + 2 = 5," "Myxomatosis," and "Scatterbrain," and the warm and groove based feel of "Sail to the Moon" and "A Punchup at a Wedding." This is what good albums do, either focus on one sound or give you a variety of songs showcasing the many reasons why they are the shit.

After listening and absorbing I realized this album is a logical step in the tradition of Kid A and Amnesiac, still incorporating the "Rock" departure mentality but definitely relying more upon Rock's golden axe, the Guitar, as well as the piano, analog keys, and live drums. Where as the Kid A/Amnesiac sessions produced brilliant music relying heavily on software, machinery, and sampling, "Hail to…" is Radiohead re-embracing the tools of the trade. From the opening song, "2 + 2 = 5" there's already rock sections that miraculously don't use space age techniques. "Sail to the Moon," is the short-hair power ballad that has beautiful arrangements, smooth change-ups, and Thom Yorke wailing simple melodic verses. Then you have "Go to Sleep," "Where I End and You Begin," and "There There" which are just great rock songs that only Radiohead can do. "There There," my personal favorite has a simple guitar riff locked in with the toms that even staunch haters in my crew couldn't deny (we know who you are fool). "There There's" energy and sound glows with rebellion as we scream with happiness that "we are all accidents waiting to happen." Conceptually, "There There" is a microcosm of the odd dynamic omnipresent in "Hail to…," an alarmist expose put to excellent music and made to sound beautiful and crafted; basically a finely packaged revolt. "There There" makes me want to get into bar fights or at the very least, do push-ups.

Moving more toward the morph/hybrid section of town are "Sit down. Stand up," which displays a fine blend of piano notes and chords with blips, blaps, and electronic rhythms before promptly exploding into a drum and bass sermon. "The Gloaming," which has several sampled rhythms ranging from vinyl hiss to digital crickets, as well as ambient textures, all juxtaposed with Thom Yorkes's soft voice producing the feeling of moving fast and slow simultaneously. And "Myxomatosis," which is a power-driven experience fully equipped with charged sounds, hard percussion and breaks, and content with the essence of "Animal Farm." It's amazing that the mix of sounds in washing machine movement doesn't hide Thom's voice or that the empty parts don't sound too empty.

The combination of music and message is what always attracts me to groups like Radiohead and Radiohead and Radiohead. They operate in a class of their own, blending and distorting genres, fearlessly innovating Rock, and still having the presence of mind to make music that can be appreciated by nerds or casual observers for its soulful and catchy songs. While the political nature of this album was a focal point for many observers, I've always felt that conscious people will have art reflect reality. Radiohead follows this equation without being preachy or paranoid. All in all, "Hail to the Thief," is another chapter in Radiohead's storied existence that serves as the DNA of all other works. The album provides a clear window looking into their remarkable catalog and at the same time functions with its own identity outside of their "other" worshipped projects.

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