Head of Radios

So, I still don’t think I’ll get to post tomorrow, but hey, I’ve got some time right now, I’ll post a second today, and balance it that way. (I could also cheat and date my post for tomorrow, but I don’t like doing that.)

I seem to be talking about music lately, and I really see no reason to stop any time soon. I’ve already at least briefly touched upon King Crimson, one of my favorite bands; what better time than now to touch upon one of my other favorite groups, Radiohead?

I’ve reached the Radiohead portion of my music collection, and am slowly progressing through it: I’m already through Amnesiac (much to my chagrin, I don’t recall listening to it… it was while I was at residency, and probably had it on in the background while talking to someone), and have just reached the end of Hail to the Thief (they are in alphabetical order by album).

Let me tell you something about Radiohead: it has become almost cliche to like them, as an intelligent person. They have become symbolic of a particular demographic of talented but alienated teenagers (and 20-somethings), and because of this, their impact as an experimental group has to some extent been lost. That may seem a little elitist, so perhaps I should explain what I mean a bit more: Radiohead continues to try new things musically, creating a unique flavor that continues to expand and evolve. However, because of their mainstream appeal and popularization, that experimentation has become inextricably linked to Radiohead, minimizing the impact on other artists searching for their own style. (The link to that style has become so strong that it becomes hard to take part of it for your own musical evolution.)

I don’t know, perhaps it’s just me. I do think it’s a valid observation though. And it also doesn’t change the fact that their music is not just food for thought: it is a multiple-course aural feast of ideas and concepts. It is musically valuable and interesting for its own sake, regardless of what sort of impact it makes on the rest of music.

Currently playing is “The National Anthem” off Kid A, which was their first album after the much-celebrated OK Computer. The bassline (strong but slightly distorted) sets the frenetic mood for the rest of the song, which offers a cacaphony of horns, drums, and vocals, blending into a dischordant harmony that somehow simply works in creating a distinct and important mood.

I suppose that’s the key part to Radiohead: in many of their songs (really, most since and including OK Computer, plus a scattered selection from Pablo Honey and The Bends) carry with them a certain tension and creative emotion that translates into a complex and important tone. Regardless of whether you understand the lyrics, regardless of whether the song even has lyrics, you get the sense that the song is important in some way that you don’t quite understand (and don’t need to).

Am I being overzealous in declaring the value and import of the music? Perhaps, but I personally don’t think so. There are some books that are declared by many to be of critical importance, books that convey something, that you can feel are important in the grander scheme of things, but you can’t put a finger on why. I feel that music can often be the same way: analysis and reason cannot explain away the sense that something is important.

One of my favorite songs by Radiohead would have to be “Exit Music (For a Film)”, off OK Computer. It really exemplifies Radiohead songs to me: though it is generally quieter than most of their other songs, I hold by this statement. This is largely because it is not a matter of a loud or quiet song that declares the flavor of a band. There is a tense fragility in the tone of the song, the sense that the line between gentle calmness and a towering, chaotic inferno of rage is only paper thin, a boundary I find myself often working so hard to not break myself on.

Their music, on the whole, conveys much the same sense of fragile importance as the movie American Beauty did to me. The metaphor of the bag dancing in the wind was a particularly strong one, and really resonates with something somewhere in the depths of my psyche, something I have not yet been able to plumb.

Perhaps when I have finally found that aspect of myself that these things resonate with, I will like them less, the mystery finally explained. But I doubt it.