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Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008

Jigsaw Falling into Place

So it’s been almost three months since Radiohead sneak-attacked their new album In Rainbows on the world, with reams upon reams of virtual paper (or litres and litres of digital ink, choose your own hoary metaphor) expended on their brave new model for the music industry and the album topping numerous year-end lists and basically reaffirming the band’s place as the biggest/most important in the world and making the physical release of the album in CD form today (or yesterday or the day before, depending on where you live or where you shop) a bit of an anti-climax.

On a personal level, it’s been interesting to observe as I used to be as big a Radiohead fan as anyone in the mid-90s from Pablo Honey through OK Computer but in over the following years, we basically drifted apart during their more “difficult” phase and after seeing them live in October 2003, I basically broke it off with the band. The themes of alienation and paranoia that informed their music just didn’t resonate anymore. We wanted different things. It wasn’t me, it was them.

But I always remained curious what they were up to and whenever any snippet of new music, in whatever form, surfaced (and whipped their more loyal acolytes into a frenzy), I would still give a listen and almost invariably be left scratching my head. I expected more of the same with In Rainbows, but still placed my pre-order for the download like however many thousands of others, and waited. And I’ve waited this long to write up my thoughts because, well, the last thing the world needed back in October was another blog post about Radiohead – and it’s still probably the last thing the world needs – but whatever.

So from the point of view of a lapsed fan, the best way I can put it is that it sounds like the band has stopped running from themselves. Since Kid A, I’ve felt that the band has been reacting against the successes of The Bends and OK Computer and the pressures that came with it, dodging anything that might sound like a pop hook or a conventional melody lest they again score a hit like “Fake Plastic Trees”. Hence Thom Yorke’s insistence on running his vocals through as many effects processors as possible, Jonny Greenwood’s trading his Telecaster for antique synthesizers.

But In Rainbows has an organic vibe that I never expected to hear from Radiohead again. The production is dense but dry and sounds very much like a rock band playing together in a room, a fact backed up by all the videos and webcasts the band has released showing them in their rehearsal space, just playing. It’s something I’d take for granted with most bands, but for Radiohead, it seems quite remarkable. Similarly, Thom Yorke is more direct lyrically than he’s been in many years with songs dealing with humanity and emotions other than anxiety – there’s hope in the mix, even love. There’s still lots of anxiety, sure, but for the first time in a decade, I might believe he is not a paranoid android.

I’m happy to get on the bandwagon declaring In Rainbows a very good record, and certainly a return to form (assuming you felt Amnesiac and Hail To The Thief demonstrated the band was out of form) though I will back away from those declaring it their best work yet. They’re certainly a more accomplished band now, musically and creatively, but for my money – two quid, if you were wondering – the songs just aren’t as good as the material on the earlier records. There’s no standout song amongst the eleven that I would hold up against their very best. But as an album, start to finish, it’s very strong. I’m not renewing my W.A.S.T.E. membership or anything (actually I never had one) but it’s good to have the band back in my life, even if we’re just friends.

Thom Yorke tells NME which song off In Rainbows is his favourite, The Toronto Star looks at how the band came to join the Maple Music roster in Canada and if you missed their New Year’s Eve webcast wherein they played the whole of the album live, you can watch it below – they’ve called the program Scotch Mist. And if you haven’t heard the album yet, it’s streaming this week at Spinner.

Video: Radiohead / Scotch Mist
Video: Radiohead – “Jigsaw Falling Into Place”
Stream: Radiohead / In Rainbows

Also streaming at Spinner this week, a live EP from Interpol, creatively titled Live EP. It was released at the end of November as one of those independent retailer-only Think Indie but I guess they only got around to getting a stream up now. They also have an interview with drummer Sam Fogarino.

Stream: Interpol / Live EP

Nada Surf’s new record Lucky isn’t out till February 5 and they don’t have a tour coming up this way but they’re in town next Wednesday night, January 9, for a free in-store at Sonic Boom Records at 7:15PM. Why? Couldn’t tell ya. Check out the first MP3 from the record below.

MP3: Nada Surf – “See These Bones”

Athenians The Whigs are in town February 5 for a free show at the Horseshoe.

And speaking of Athens, Georgia, R.E.M. have given their new album a title – Accelerate. NME quotes Stipey as saying the album is “the fastest we’ve made in 20 years”, which means it’s going to rock at least as hard as… Document? Green? As long as it’s not another Monster. The record is out April 1 so it’s entirely possible that it’ll actually be an album full of piano ballads. HA HA. But seriously, they’ve set up a website at www.ninetynights.com and will use it to count down the three months to the album’s release with a new video clip each day from director Vincent Moon, best known for his work with the Take Away Shows.

And segueing off the Take Away Shows, they’ve got a new one up featuring Handsome Furs.

By : Frank Yang at 8:13 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. scott pgwp says:

    I had a similar reaction to In Rainbows – not so much that it is a "return" to form, but that it’s the first album the band has done where they feel utterly comfortable within their new (post-Kid A) aesthetic. Putting all their gadgets to use on songs that get something across other than anxiety is a great accomplishment.

    As for REM, I’m excited. I for one think they’ve only had one weak album in their entire career – Around the Sun. I picked up Monster a few months ago after selling it sometime in high school or college, and I was surprised to find it’s much better than I remember it being.

  2. Matt says:

    I’ve never understood why people find Kid A and Amnesiac to be such difficult albums. I know quite a few people who are fans or RH’s work up until OK Computer but hate everything they’ve done since. I don’t get it. Yes, there is a bit of a feeling of cold detachment to those albums, but compared to a lot of the execrable stuff that makes up alternative radio playlists these days, I find both to be quite approachable.

  3. annie z says:

    one could make the argument that REM have been running away from themselves since, oh, ‘automatic for the people.’ and that ‘accelerate’ is a return to form. or a return to form to their ’80s sound — which, at least thematically, has become more relevant as time has gone on.

    what’s funny about radiohead, is that ‘hail to the thief’ is much more accessible than i remember it being; i’ve never even opened the copy i have, but somehow the songs seem very familiar when i listen to them. same with ‘kid a’; i haven’t listened to that album in at least five years, and never remember hearing them that much back when it came out, but somehow they’re familiar. even their ‘difficult phase’ seems easy to absorb.

  4. Lisa says:

    I see bands like Radiohead as road builders, they build a road for other bands to follow, paving the way. The fact that fans might get bored is more to do with over-exposure I think. I personally like to listen to something before it hits the masses. There’s that sense of disappointment when a band you like suddenly gets big and you hear them everywhere on the radio instead of just in your own private world..

  5. juepucta says:

    Does anybody "get" the packaging of In Rainbows?

    Are the stickers there for you to decorate the copy one burned from MP3s downloaded in October?

    Are we supposed to put the disc and booklet in a jewel case and discard the "envelope" (not very likely i must say)?

    Are the stickies there so we can deface the last Beck album (that also came with stickers)?

    Just curious.

    -G.

  6. thomaus says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watc… explains the package.

    But if I already got in ‘trouble’ for buying a CD for an album that I already paid to download (£1), I surely would get into trouble for buying it one more time so I can mess around with the packaging. (Of course I have to keep one copy pristine for historical preservation purposes.)

    BTW, I noticed that Radiohead is #1 on iTunes. Pretty much blows the theory that releasing MP3s kills music sales.

  7. thomaus says:

    Humour me here…
    Completist guide to IN_RAINBOWS:
    – Original pay-what-you-can download 160 kbps MP3
    – iTunes Plus version 256 kbps AAC (DRM-free) includes Digital Booklet
    – Amazon.com 256 kbps MP3 (sorry, no booklet, and no sales to Canada — so what you could download for free a month ago you now can only buy if you live in the US.)
    – The spiffy limited edition dual-LP, 2-disk thingie. Sold out, of course.
    – LP version (Limited edition?)
    – The enveloped traditional CD with the confusing stickers

    Did I miss something?
    The Japanese version doesn’t count. You have to draw the line somewhere.

  8. userfm says:

    interesting

  9. juepucta says:

    Oh believe me i am tired of the collective RH fellatio as well. And like Sloan once sang, "it is not the band that i hate, it’s the fans". I downloaded the album in October, paid $0. This time i bought the retail (no frills) version for $10. Pirated the outtake disc. That’t it.

    Also, i am not buying any BS about how revolutionary their take on the American Analog Set is. Good album but in the context of their discography not their best. Not the best of ’07 in any way to boot.

    -G.