Radiohead has long occupied the privileged role of an unfiltered cultural node, a point of entry into mainstream culture for ideas or artistic forms associated with the perimeter. They are enormously popular, however their subject matter is, in controversion to that popularity, oddly unsettling, their vaguely expressed themes the more eerie for being unexpressed. They are a pop supergroup statistically, but not artistically. They digest the themes indigestible to the masses and pass them on to an audience that gladly accepts what would under other circumstances be anathema to it. Thematically, the isolation, frightening anonymization, and abstracted control exerted on modern life by hidden processes, both technological and political, and the combination of those forces to negate identity are not exactly grist for Anne Geddes. But this is what people across the spectrum soak up when they tune in.
On Kid A, the band emerged from their post- OK Computer silence with an album of undeniably electronic music, in the genre sense, in spite of the electronic genre being largely unaccepted outside of its cadres of enthusiasts. On the track Idioteque They sampled Princeton’s Paul Lansky’s first computer composition from 1973, “Mild und Leise”, and also a work from the same compilation entitled, “Short Piece”, by Arthur Krieger. Not only did they succeed in creating an album of highly popularly regarded IDM, but they also, by sampling such early experimental works, extended a pop audience’s acceptance of experimental electronic music from the present back to its very historical roots.
Wendy Carlos may have succeeded in the ‘60s and ‘70s in proving to the public that electronic instruments were fit to play culturally sanctioned classics, but Radiohead succeeded after the turn of this century in pop-culturally sanctioning the entire history and intrinsic possibility of electronic music itself from its inception into perpetuity.
Other bands have emerged in the last 10 or so years to grow along similar trajectories to Radiohead. There are two American analogs: Those chairmen of the American Id, Chicago’s Wilco, and Oklahoma City’s The Flaming Lips. Radiohead has developed in divergence from Wilco out of realistic necessity. Though both bands are experimental with access to an enthusiastic fan base that would be critical of its work under different circumstances, as Europeans, Radiohead lack the ability to access folk forms available to the American artistic palate. They have moved away from further exploration of the rock and folk genres, developing instead toward the technologically sanctioned realm of electronic instrumentation and the European tradition of classical arrangement. With respect to Radiohead’s developing distaste for recording the sound of instruments played in purely acoustic space, the band can be said to have embraced a similar path to the Lips, who have adopted an increasingly laptop-couture form of heavily offline-processed-and-produced psychedelia.
It is possible, and fitting to mention in light of the new record’s content, that soon stylistic forensics will become meaningless. Each reader of this article could just as well demand an audience for the recording they just completed on the computers they are sitting before, either denying conversation entirely in the demand for recognition for him or herself or by citing influences from such a convoluted roster of similar inspirations that common references become pointless to find. However, inventing circuitous genealogies of influence seems to be the record reviewer’s bread and butter, so we’ll proceed. The 2-D vocal sound prevailing on this record, the result of separate tracks getting compressed down to their essences and then played back with the expectation that you should perceive the components as a whole, is reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 Loveless, with its wall of painted voices, and Brian Eno’s recent record, 2005’s warmly artificially atmospheric Another Day on Earth. The slow development of In Rainbows’ songs from quiet arpeggios into epic flourishes, not to mention the theme, has a forbear in Gary Numan’s 1980 Heroin-thick loss of humanity Euro-epic Telekon.
What the band laments on the new record is the loss of identity brought about by hypertrophied individuality. That loss, in a Gary Numan-esque twist, ironically is topical today because of the almost mechanically automated assertion of identity across many fronts- we write blogs that are search-engine-indexed immediately, our personalities are powered by identically formatted Myspace profile talking points and visually located on a map on our Flickr profiles, and our bill-pay services ensure our credit-entity counterparts can pay our bills independent of any action taken on our part. Where are we amidst our pre-formatted dating profiles and mechanized bills that accrue and pay themselves?
Continue reading We Approach the Singularity In Rainbows: A Few Songs Before the Lights Go Out