I know posting has been scarce, as time to post has been scarce, but I've almost completed a new travelogue that will hopefully be up Monday. It is one of my more ambitious, and I hope reading it won't make you want to gouge your eyes out.
Have a great weekend!
Friday, December 15, 2017
Monday, December 11, 2017
You can check it out at its rehabilitated home.
Or you can check it out here.
Or you can not check it out at all, and go to Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen instead. If you do all three (which would prove impossible, given my wording), do that third one last. Otherwise, your keyboard is going to get greasy, and your cats won't stop licking it. Your cats are saucy.
Friday, December 08, 2017
Wednesday, December 06, 2017
Whatever experience and skill Roadside Monument needed to pull off their musical vision, by their final album, I Am the Day of Current Taste, they have both earned it and learned it. The band's debut album, Beside This Brief Hexagonal, showed a band reaching for something beyond their grasp. They played a very simplistic emo-rock style, and yet tried to shy away from basic song structures, stretching their abilities well past their limits. On 1998's I Am the Day of Current Taste, the band stretch out the song lengths, but their playing and writing now fill the songs with good musicianship and interesting parts and shifts (hey, 1/4 of the song titles feature automobiles!).
Admittedly I picked up the bands's debut and final albums at a thrift sale after remembering that when I was a teenager, a lot of people in my circle were fond of them. I don't know about the album and EP's the band put out in between the two full lengths I have, and what kind of musical growth those showed. I do know that I Am the Day of Current Taste nearly sounds like it is performed by a different band than the one who performed on the band's debut. Perhaps the improved song-structuring and musicianship are also due to contributions from members of the band Ninety Pound Wuss, who helped out in the studio. Maybe they are due to the influence of Frodus, with whom the band previously recorded a split-EP (moments of this album certainly sound like Frodus). It's also obvious that Roadside Monument have realized that vocals are not their strong-suit, as they have mitigated their effect here, more often than not letting the music do the talking. With that said, the vocals do show improvement from the debut.
I don't know, I almost feel like it is not my place to talk about this band, like they were a part of some thing that I ignored, and now am sort of lukewarmly acknowledging. All that aside, I Am the Day of Current Taste is a solid progressive rock album with a more punk/indie feel than the heavier genres now more associated with that descriptor, and I like listening to it (not sure if emo applies here, as the hallmarks of that genre are largely abest). On to the next review...I think it's of a Roots of Orchis album...wait, no...it's a soundtrack?
1998 Tooth & Nail Records
1. I Am The Day Of Current Taste 7:01
2. OJ Simpson House Auction 6:29
3. Taxiriding As An Artform 3:50
4. Cops Are My Best Customers 6:25
5. The Lifevest 6:43
6. Egos The Size Of Cathedrals 4:11
7. This City Is Ruthless And So Are You 5:41
8. Car Vs Semi, Semi Wins Every Time 8:17
Monday, December 04, 2017
"Emo is just rock music with bad singing." -- Jesse Smith, drummer for Zao (1994-2004)
That quote might not be entirely fair, but in many (certainly not all!) cases, I have found it to be true. Roadside's Monument's debut, Beside This Brief Hexagonal, certainly does not break this stereotype. The vocals are harsh, nasally, and desperately off-pitch. The music is daring to be unstructured and different, and yet the kids playing it don't yet have the ability and versatility to play diversely enough to make much of it stand out (much like I don't have the ability and versatility not to end a sentence with seventeen prepositions). Much of this music is aimless, simplistic, watery noodling. Still, there are moments, like the crunchy, impromptu jam at the end of "Prozac Princess," which promise that once this band gets a little experience behind their belts, they might just takeoff like a rocket. Eh, that sounded dirty.
1996 Tooth & Nail Records
1. Oh So Fabled 3:45
2. Seed 2:48
3. A Girl Named Actually 3:17
4. Still 3:25
5. Prozac Princess 5:45
6. Lobbyest 4:56
7. Immersion 3:02
8. Greek Tragedy 3:56
9. Boasting In Weakness 2:38
10. Mothered Others 6:23
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Remember how I secretly reviewed an obscure video game title four years ago, then witnessed the photo-hosting site for the review go bust and take all of its pictures away? No! Well, that is a thing that happened, and I've restructured that review to mirror the format of reviews I've written after it, i.e., it has jokes now, and new pictures.
Head on over to Classic Video Game Reviews to check it out,
or experience it in its now-being refurnished old home, The Nintendo 64 Museum.
Head on over to Classic Video Game Reviews to check it out,
or experience it in its now-being refurnished old home, The Nintendo 64 Museum.
Monday, November 20, 2017
My favorite long lost radio tradition is the "caller number nine gets a free CD" one. CD's were once a hot commodity, $18.99 at Blockbuster music, and a free one of any quality was a fairly big deal. Anytime KLSU gave one away, I dialed them up. That's how I ended up with one of the more obscure releases in my collection, Australian alternative rock band Rhubarb's debut, Kamikaze.
Kamikaze, which was a moderate hit in Australia, features a very turn-of-the-century, few-frills alternative rock sound, mostly a couple of guitars, bass, drums, and vocals. The pace is mostly chill, except for a couple of random punk songs. The relaxed feel is at first quite comforting, as is the singer's subtle Australian lilt. However, that same unrushed pace also makes the album a bit of a bore. Things pick up at times, such fourth track, "Holiday"'s fun, song-ending horns. This leads into an interesting mid-section, with vibe-changing string-ballad, "Do Do Do," and the very unexpected punk rock stylings of "Excerciser." "Excerciser," essentially a statement of faith by dissension against the secular world is fun until Rhubarb get to the unfortunate line, "Got a mom and a dad/only ones I've ever had." That's not exactly something under any child's control.
The album bogs down again on track seven, "Want Me Back," a mid-tempo drag, and track eight "Lead Me" doesn't exactly pull it out, even with its somber horns--really the two songs are interchangeable. "Waiting for Me," doesn't do anything new, either. It is at this point in the review that I adjust the 7/10 that was on top of this review to a 6/10. I can't be too forgiving to something that gets this boring. At least the last song, "Nice Girls," picks up the pace, however silly.
I won a decent amount of albums by calling in to KLSU. None of them sucked. One of them was kind of bland, though.
1999 Inpop Records
1. Zero 3:33
2. Kamikaze 5:09
3. Pennywise 3:47
4. Holiday 3:31
5. Do Do Do 2:56
6. Exerciser 1:41
7. Want Me Back 3:09
8. Lead Me 3:17
9. Waiting for Me 3:36
10. Nice Girls 2:01
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
For the first time in quite a while, I have had a perfect video game experience, and so for the first time in not quite a while, I have created a new blog to review it. Yes, in order to review The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I have created a new blog for Switch Reviews. I think this blog will see a decent amount of action, as the built-in camera button on the Switch makes grabbing screenshots a breeze. I can't count the amount of Wii U games I have played and then not reviewed on my Wii U review blog because grabbing screenshots for that system has been such a pain. Anyway, here is my rather cheerful, yet concise review for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the Nintendo Switch. Hope it either inspires you to pick it up, or reminisce on the great time you also had playing through it...unless you played through it and somehow didn't have a great time, in which case, video games are apparently not for you.
Here's the new blog:
Monday, November 13, 2017
Earlier this year, I had numerous discussions with friends about how printed media is dead.
Sample comment: "A blog is pointless because kids today don't read. They just want to watch videos."
I also had several thoughts about social media.
Sample thought: "You should re-join Facebook (after your seven year absence) so that you can promote your blogs."
Interesting points, me and friends.
On top of that, Photobucket, where I hosted every blog picture from 2004 to the summer of 2016 (well over 1,000 photos over 12 years) imploded, rendering countless reviews and travelogues I have published picture-less.
All of this got me thinking:
Should the Nicsperiment continue?
Afterall, the blog zeitgiest faded long ago. Indeed, kids today would rather watch inane Youtube banter over reading a thought-out and meticulously written piece.
Also, the years I was on social media ('04-'10) certainly saw the most blog activity, as many people encountered The Nicsperiment through links on my Facebook account, and many others blogged (where they went is up for another discussion). But do I want my older relatives, distant schoolmates, and any random acquaintance who thinks I owe them the inside dirt on my personal life just that, as seen through the lens of a mid-90's punk album review?
I don't care that kids today don't read. I like to write, and I have always written The Nicsperiment for my own enjoyment. I don't care that I am missing out on a few thousand pageviews when those pageviews would come from people I'd rather not have in my personal business.
Then there's the photobucket thing. What a great example of the ephemerality of Internet-based media. All of those pictures gone. The answer to this is more difficult. I'll take the view hits to protect the integrity of The Nicsperiment, but will I revise all of that old content to again include the visual media it was meant to be augmented by?
I have already re-pictured all of the less visually-endowed 2004 and 2005, and I (thankfully!) started Google-hosting the pics on my new posts from June 2016 forward. Thus, the bookends of The Nicsperiment appear as they were always intended. The ten years in the middle will take time, especially the insanely prolific 2012 (270 legit posts!), and that includes all of the video game reviews I have posted on my other blogs.
With that said, I started a Nintendo 64 review site in 2013. I kept that blog extra secret for a while, wanting it to stay mysterious. I have decided that, as new pictures are now needed for the first two years of reviews, and as I re-launched that blog last year with a new review format, I will just re-launch again from the beginning, posting new pics and enhanced reviews in the place of the old ones (that all have dry writing, and ugly photobucket logos in the place of where the pictures used to be).
So, coming up next in my blogging world, a review of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, multiple new reviews of games on various consoles, and a hopefully consistent stream of revitalized Nintendo 64 Museum reviews (the originals of which were never announced or linked to from here!). I might also sprinkle in some music reviews to finish off the leter "R," as the last ones are sort of stragglers. Plus, I'll slowly re-visualize the rest of the blog.
I'm excited! Inane Youtube video viewers and Facebook stalkers can stick it! I don't know what they can stick or where, but whatever.
The Nicsperiment forever!...or until Google decides it doesn't want to host it anymore.
Friday, November 10, 2017
Forget and Not Slow Down is the best album Relient K have ever released.
At some point in 2008, Matt Theissen allegedly cheated on his fiancée, and she left him. Theissen decided to go out in the middle of the woods and write an album about the experience. The band would then record it by natural methods, forgoing a lot of the computerized tracking they had done in the past. The listener is rewarded with great, focused songwriting by Theissen, and electric performances by the band. New drummer, Ethan Luck, and his spring-loaded drumming style brings a new energy to the other band members' playing. The result is Forget and Not Slow Down, a great rock record, with shades of punk (mostly found in Luck's gutsy drumming), a little piano, and a ton of emotion. With that said, I've written in the past that Theissen's songs about the opposite sex creep me out a little bit. Not here. Theissen is completely honest about his own feelings and failings, but also open about his darker emotions, of his disappointment at not getting another chance. He also plays to his all-time greatest lyrical and emotional strength, conveying the idea and feeling of getting knocked down...or tripping, and getting up again, and that everything can and will be okay. When he does get romantic, the songs are bittersweet, conveying wishes he knows won't come true. Still, the final feeling of the album is one of catharsis.
Overall, Forget and Not Slow Down is a remarkable album, one with perhaps an unfortunate catalyst, but a therapeutic experience nonetheless.
2009 Mono Vs Stereo/Jive
1. Forget and Not Slow Down (featuring Tim Skipper of House of Heroes) 3:22
2. I Don't Need a Soul 3:51
3. Candlelight 3:21
4. Flare (Outro) 1:00
5. Part of It 3:20
6. (Outro) 1:35
7. Therapy (featuring Brian McSweeney of Seven Day Jesus) 3:43
8. Over It" 3:54
9. Sahara (featuring Tim Skipper of House of Heroes, Aaron Gillespie of The Almost and Matt MacDonald of The Classic Crime) 3:49
10. Oasis (Intro) 0:41
11. Savannah 4:17
12. Baby (Outro) 0:46
13. If You Believe Me (featuring Matt MacDonald of The Classic Crime) 3:20
14. This Is the End 2:17
15. (If You Want It) 3:18
Monday, November 06, 2017
This is a tough one for me. I really enjoyed how Relient K's Mmhmm featured some actual punk tempos, but also showed some progressive song-structuring. The album had an edge at moments, and was unpredictable at others. I didn't feel like a youth group pastor just putting on what the kids liked to hear when I listened to it--I legitimately enjoyed it. Five Score and Seven Years Ago is a definite step back from Mmhmm. It begins with a sort of fakeout--"Come Right Out and Say It" and "I Need You" almost sound like direct advancements of the work on Mmhmm, even if they are far more rock than punk. Then, "The Best Thing"'s polished pop-rock rears its head. I won't pretend like "The Best Thing" is a bad song, just a departure into a direction that I'm not overly fond of. I can easily be objective when reviewing genres I don't favor (take my word for it...hahahahahah! You have no choice!), but from there the album becomes a little bit of a drag. "Forgiven" is a downer, especially considering that forgiveness as a concept is quite joyful. "Must Have Done Something Right" is cloying, sticky sweet pop rock with a heavy Beach Boys influence.
"Give Until There's Nothing Left" picks back up on the "this is a huge drag" vibe of "Forgiven," and "Devastation and Reform" grabs that baton and keeps on running. "I'm Taking You with Me" brightens things up, but also makes clear that almost ten tracks in, Relient K have dropped any pretense of being a punk rock band. This is a piano-heavy pop-rock album. Let's start another paragraph.
"Faking My Own Suicide" is the logical conclusion to every creepy, strangely controlling romantic song Matt Theissen ever wrote. I've generally felt a weird vibe from any song he'd penned about relationships with females up to this point, but "Faking My Own Suicide" is out in the open manipulative garbage. It might be appropriating a chapter from Tom Sawyer, but the truth is, this is the kind of stuff my divorced female friends and family who were in abusive marriages have told me their ex's would say to them.
So I’ve made up my mind
I will pretend to leave this world behind
And in the end you'll know I've lied
To get your attention, I'm faking my own suicide
I'm faking my own suicide
Because I know you love me, you just haven't realized
I'm faking my own suicide
They'll hold a double funeral because a part of you will die along with me
I wish you thought that I was dead
So rather than me, you'd be depressed instead
And before arriving at my grave
You'd come to the conclusion you'd loved me all your days
But its too late, too late for you to say
I'll write you a letter that you'll keep
Reminding you your love for me was more than six feet deep
You'll say aloud you would've been my wife
And right about that time, is when I'd come back to life
And let you know
That all along I was faking my own suicide
Because I know you loved me, you just never realized
I was faking my own suicide
I'll walk in the room and see your eyes open so wide
Because you know
You will never leave my side
Until I the day that I die for the first time
And we'll laugh, yeah, we'll laugh and we will cry
So overjoyed with our love thats so alive
Our love is so alive
I can't really point the finger--as a spouse more than a decade in, I've got a hell of a lot of room for improvement--but "Faking My Own Suicide" is the worst "I'm a nice guy, you'll see, I'll MAKE you see" crap I've ever heard. I hope an older, wiser Theissen, ten-years post-writing this, has grown past "Faking My Own Suicide"'s sentiments. Also, it's a damn twee-country song, and I only got three hours of sleep last night.
Thankfully, Five Score and Seven Years Ago ends with its three strongest songs, the rocking headrush of "Bite My Tongue," the fiery, infectious enthusiasm of "Up and Up," and the staggering, eleven minute "Deathbed."
"Deathbed" is a career highlight, Theissen's best storytelling on full display. He does great character work here in service of the tale of a grizzled old man reflecting on his life at its end, and the band do a great job of keeping the music interesting for the duration. As much as I slagged Theissen above, he deserves credit for crafting a great, extremely memorable song here. The surprise appearance by Switchfoot's Jon Foreman at the end only sweetens deal.
Thus ends a record I'm not very fond of, but can't call terrible. It is merely okay, a mix of some truly lousy, unenjoyable songs, and some really good ones. Now that I've reviewed it, outside of "Up and Up" and "Deathbed," I'll probably never listen to it again.
1. Pleading the Fifth (a cappella) 1:13
2. Come Right Out and Say It 3:00
3. I Need You 3:18
4. The Best Thing 3:28
5. Forgiven 4:05
6. Must Have Done Something Right 3:19
7. Give Until There's Nothing Left 3:27
8. Devastation and Reform 3:41
9. I'm Taking You with Me 3:28
10. Faking My Own Suicide 3:23
11. Crayons Can Melt on Us for All I Care 0:12
12. Bite My Tongue 3:30
13. Up and Up 4:03
14. Deathbed 11:05
Thursday, November 02, 2017
I purchased Relient K's Mmhmm from a brand new Wal Mart on the way to vote for a man who didn't win. Afterward, while snacking on Wal Mart-purchased Apples, I drove through a downpour, waving to sign-holding supporters of the man who didn't win while I sat in my warm car, listening to Relient K's Mmhmm.
The fall of 2004 holds a special place in my heart. For one thing, it was (FINALLY) my last semester of college, and for another, I had recently kicked that 9-month migraine thing, and in the process, was feeling free from a lot of the chains that had been holding me down. Wow, now that I type that, I realize that migraine was sort of like a pregnancy for my own sanity and freedom.
Enough of all that personal history, though. I just wanted to get it out of the way to show I may be a bit biased in this review. However, objective is my middle name. Or maybe it's objectionable?
Regardless, Mmhmm shows vast growth for pop-punk brigands, Relient K. From the start, the guitars have more punch, the band, drummer included, actually plays a fast, aggressive punk beat, there's a punchy, tempo-changing pre-chorus, an everything but the guitars fall-out blink-182 2nd pre-chorus, and then finally, a real chorus. It's a rush, full of energy, and unpredictable. Second track, "Be My Escape" keeps the unpredictability going, injecting a healthy share of piano, as well. Even the bass player sounds like he wants to prove something. "High of 75" continues the energy blast, with a rapidly-strummed acoustic guitar, an unexpected drum-machine appearance, and a carefree attitude.
"I So Hate Consequences," a career highlight, follows. This song continues the high energy, high unpredictability streak, but takes it to a higher emotional place than the band often reach, with a particularly powerful piano bridge about religious forgiveness.
Relient K are one of the worst offenders in the "is this song about God or girl" songwriters coalition (membership requirement: "USE PRONOUNS!"), so it is always nice when they differentiate. As someone who is religious and also loves a female, I get pretty bored with that kind of vagueness. The subject of "I Hate So Hate Consequences" is transparent.
Track five, "The Only Thing Worse Than Beating a Dead Horse Is Betting on One", is a short (except in title), but sweet political ditty, and then the energy flags just a bit. "My Girl's Ex-Boyfriend" keeps up the trend of vocalist, Matt Theissen's romantic songs creeping me out a bit, as I find them possessive and strangely controlling. "More Than Useless" is synth-heavy and disposable, leaning on the "I'm a screw-up, but it's okay" trope a little too heavily. The album gets back on track with the two parter "Which to Bury, Us or the Hatchet?/Let It All Out" a break-up mini-rock opera, which changes gears about a million times, features a banjo, and ends in a strange, peaceful, ethereal piano cloud that Coldplay used to live on before they got obsessed with proving that they are not old. This is wisely followed by the high-energy "Who I Am Hates Who I've Been," reminiscent of the album's opening tracks, but without as many twists and turns.
"Maintain Consciousness" is as disposable as "More Than Useless," as Theissen rails against prescription drugs or something. It always bothers me when someone who doesn't suffer from (or doesn't admit to suffer from) mental illness tries to comment on it. I think he is actually trying to say something about the public's waning attention span, but the lyrics are muddled. Whatever, it's three-minutes, and it's over. "This Week the Trend" picks things back up, though like "Who I Am Hates Who I've Been," does so pretty straightforwardly.
"Life After Death & Taxes (Failure II)," is appropriately thematically heavy for a penultimate track, setting things up nicely for epic finale, "When I Go Down," another one of Theissen's classic, "get knocked-down, get back up again," closers. "When I Go Down" changes gears many, many times, and as I tossed and turned one night after graduation, wondering what the heck I was going to do with my life, it actually brought me great peace, just like it probably did for all of those just-started-college millennials who had likely just voted in their first election because P Diddy told them to.
0. MMHMM -0:17
1. The One I'm Waiting For 3:02
2. Be My Escape 4:00
3. High of 75 2:27
4. I So Hate Consequences 4:01
5. The Only Thing Worse Than Beating a Dead Horse Is Betting on One 1:13
6. My Girl's Ex-Boyfriend 2:28
7. More Than Useless 3:50
8. Which to Bury, Us or the Hatchet? 4:11
9. Let It All Out 4:21
10. Who I Am Hates Who I've Been 3:52
11. Maintain Consciousness 2:52
12. This Week the Trend 2:59
13. Life After Death & Taxes (Failure II) 4:23
14. When I Go Down 6:42
Monday, October 30, 2017
You've gotta hear this band! said every teenager I knew in the early 00's in regard to Relient K. So I did hear the band...and I was unimpressed. This is likely due to the fact that I was not a teenager, but a high-falutin college student and DJ. Goofy pop-punk songs about the evils of Marilyn Manson and Thundercats did not impress me like they did the first wave of millennials. However, those millennials were also my radio listeners, and Gotee records sent my station approximately 5,000 copies of the Relient K's 2003 release (and third album, overall) Two Lefts Don't Make a Right...but Three Do. I don't know what I did with all of those, though one copy, the blue one with the wrecked pickup, still survives on my music shelf. Without even listening, the multiple album cover concept impressed me--four different cartoon illustrations of a car wreck, each with their own hue. Unfortunately, the music, while better than the band's previous work, didn't impress me as much.
I came up on early Tooth and Nail punk bands like MxPx and Slick Shoes--Relient K felt like the diet version of that. Vocalist, Matt Theissen, seemed to not think the way that I did, and I had a hard time connecting with his lyrics...but still, there's something here.
"Chap Stick, Chapped Lips, and Things Like Chemistry" is a high energy opener, with a bridge straight out of the "slow-it-down" blink-182 handbook. It works. Second track, "Mood Rings," however, doesn't, and seems even more regressive and immature to me now than it did in 2003, with the chorus, "Let's get emotional girls to all wear mood rings." I guess it's supposed to be funny. One of these days, right in the kisser.
Thankfully, the next duo of songs features far more maturity, from the piano-lead of "Falling Out," to the more grown-up, "get knocked-down and get back up again" sentiments of the rocking "Forward Motion." "Forward Motion" also features a pretty rad guitar line, and some cool tempo changes.
The album then travels on the immature route once again with "In Love with the 80's (Pink Tux to the Prom). I grew up in the 80's, and this song draws far more from a lesser John Hughes film than actual 80's life. Things get worse, for me at least, on "College Kids." As a college senior who had just put a hard four years work in, the last lyrics I wanted to hear were "and that's why i say oh no! not for me not for me call it torture call it university." I loved college and 14 years later I'm still on campus--again, me and this vocalist weren't on the same page.
"Trademark" is better, if unremarkable, as is "Hoopes I Did It Again."
But what is this? "Over Thinking" is a legitimately great song. Great enough to perk my 2003 ears up from all the Radiohead, Björk, Portishead, Sigur Ros, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor I was listening to. It's got a great, unexpected piano-break 1:05 in, a jamming bassline throughout, and multiple bridges--a true wellspring of creativity on the band's part.
"I Am Understood" is a solid follow-up.
"Getting Into You" then comes as the album's ballad, the cheese a bit too soft for my taste. After a short voice recording and the brief but fun "Gibberish," comes "From End to End," one of the album's more aggressive tracks, with a nice, cathartic bridge.
TLDMARBTD closes with "Jefferson Aero Plane," proving that Theissen excels best at "despite the circumstances, I'll be okay" closers (there's more of these to come in the band's catalogue). It's a very well-written track with a carefree feel, and some nice gear changes and ping-ponging between the guitars and the piano. It, along with this album's other stronger tracks, proves that this band has promise beyond pop-punk-lite songs about Saturday morning cartoons and forcing females to wear mood-revealing rings--and also that maybe non-millennials can one day enjoy their music, as well.
2003 Gotee Records
1. Chap Stick, Chapped Lips, and Things Like Chemistry 3:10
2. Mood Rings 3:18
3. Falling Out 3:51
4. Forward Motion 3:57
5. In Love with the 80's (Pink Tux to the Prom) 3:08
6. College Kids 3:27
7. Trademark 3:54
8. Hoopes I Did It Again 3:12
9. Over Thinking 4:08
10. I Am Understood? 4:23
11. Getting Into You 3:24
12. Kids on the Street 0:26
13. Gibberish 1:45
14. From End to End 4:37
15. Jefferson Aero Plane (includes hidden track "Silly Shoes") 12:52
Friday, October 27, 2017
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
I really like Radiohead. I wasn't sure what to expect going into these reviews because I hadn't recently listened to many of these albums. Thankfully, they not only held up, but the band's newer work shined as well. It's time for my customary Q&A.
You say that the old albums are still good, but that you enjoy Radiohead's newer albums, as well. Rank them according to your own enjoyment.
Wow, you jumped right to the chase. This is going to be tough.
2. Kid A
3. In Rainbows
4. OK Computer
5. A Moon Shaped Pool
6. Hail to the Thief
7. The King of Limbs
8. The Bends
9. Pablo Honey
Wait, The Bends is ranked number eight? That album is a classic! What is wrong with you?
I don't think The Bends is bad. I gave it an 8/10. However, compared to all of the albums that followed it, it is more generic, repetitive, and dated. The mid-90's rock sound isn't as timeless as Radiohead's experimentation in the late 90's and beyond. However, The Bends does have some incredible songs, particularly "Street Spirit (Fade Out)."
Amnesiac at number one? Isn't that the one everybody hates?
It's the one I like the best. Read the review.
Is there anything you feel like you missed getting into your reviews?
Actually, yes. Radiohead have one of the most impressive libraries of B-sides I have ever heard. If you are into collecting CD singles with original artwork and unreleased songs, I particularly recommend tracking down the ones from the Amnesiac era. "Worrywort" and "Fog" in particular, but really most of this band's B-sides are worth listening to from any era, if you can track them down. These little known gems definitely have more of a "the song just didn't fit with the rest of the album, but is still worthy" feel than a "this song sucked, so we didn't put it on the album" one.
Are you full of existential dread?
Sometimes. I was happy to get through the band's mid-career period, despite my love for it, just because it was giving me a bit too much of that. I do feel like what makes Radiohead a great rather than merely good band is their ability to transcend those dread-filled vibes, while lesser bands may simply say, "Hey, we're good at this sad and scary thing...let's just always hang out here." In that way, Radiohead's creative restlessness is a strength rather than a liability.
What's next for the old Nicsperiment? Looks like you've been taking a little bit of a break?
Life definitely becomes hectic in ebbs and flows, and the last few weeks have been a bit noisy. The next band I am reviewing is also quite different from Radiohead, and not necessarily one of my favorites, even though I enjoy a couple of their albums. It's taking me a little while to work up the will to finish them. Then again, those reviews could be my best work. Who knows?
Who knows indeed.
Hey, you're going to spoil who I'm reviewing next!
Friday, October 20, 2017
Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool sounds more like an album of moods and atmospheres than songs. For some bands, this would be a negative. Not for Radiohead.
Album opener, "Burn the Witch," sets the sonic tone, string-dominated music, steady, minimalist drums, acoustic or non-distorted electric guitar, and a Thom Yorke who sounds both engaged and resigned. Really, the story of A Moon Shaped Pool is the strings, with Johnny Greenwood putting his film composition experience to great use. They are absolutely beautiful, and they drive the album's strange, organic mood. The supporting all-star is some lovely, often treated piano work. These are not staples of rock music, and I would hesitate to even call A Moon Shaped Pool a rock album. The amounted of distorted guitar is minimal, almost entirely relegated to the raucous guitar solo tagged onto the end of "Indentikit," and by "tagged on," I mean unexpected, yet perfectly placed--not extraneous.
In addition to the non-rock instrumentation, A Moon Shaped Pool features a definite lack of hooks, choruses, or other pop-derived elements commonly found in much of rock music. This is why I consider A Moon Shaped Pool more an exhortation of mood and atmosphere than a collection of songs. Each track is distinct, but none, outside of the piano-based closer, exist under any pop or rock terms. They're more movements in a piece, making this more akin to classical music than anything. Of course, most classical music doesn't feature guitar, electric bass, and a drum kit, though to turn this statement around, the drums are aided by Portishead's Clive Deamer, a master of straightforward, propulsive, yet rhythmically minimalist beats--not exactly a staple-style of playing in rock.
Yeah, I am bleating on and on, but I could sum it all up by stating that A Moon Shaped Pool is some strange cross between a 50-minute classical composition and a 70's British rock album, replete with classic Radiohead electronics and sound manipulation. It sounds like emotionally-attuned space aliens who mastered music a million millennia ago created it, and it is evocative of a late fall afternoon with dimming sunlight falling on a lake and some old train passing on a hillside so far away you can feel it more than hear it, and a resignation that sadness might be here to stay and life goes on and is beautiful anyway. Every time I listen to it it sounds better and newer, and if Radiohead wanted to call it quits here, that would be fair, but if they want to release an album a year like this until all five members are in the grave, that would be alright.
What a great band.
1. Burn the Witch 3:40
2. Daydreaming 6:24
3. Decks Dark 4:41
4. Desert Island Disk 3:44
5. Ful Stop 6:07
6. Glass Eyes 2:52
7. Identikit 4:26
8. The Numbers 5:45
9. Present Tense 5:06
10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief 5:03
11. True Love Waits 4:43
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Ah, so the comment I made in my review of Hail to the Thief, "Almost every band I feel a strong emotional connection to has an album that I unfairly malign upon its release, only to come back to and love later" is doubled when it comes to Radiohead. Hail to the Thief isn't the only one of their albums to grew on me over time. The King of Limbs is another slow grower. Again, my own expectations were my biggest obstacle to enjoyment.
The King of Limbs follows one of Radiohead's greatest albums, and maybe their most complete, In Rainbows. In Rainbows features a full, lush, beautiful, enveloping, highly-textured,sound. The King of Limbs, in many ways, does not. It is beautiful at points, but in completely different ways. In Rainbows features a confident, complete sound. The King of Limbs is completely transient. It was creating by chopping the band's performances into bits and pieces, and then gluing them back together in hopefully a pleasing manner. Glitchy rhythms shuffle along. Guitars start and stop. Sometimes even the vocals are garbled samples. Thankfully, Colin Greenwood's basslines are allowed to roam free from the editing knife, and serve as a bedrock for each song. Tom Yorke's vocals, even more emotive and naked than his work on In Rainbows, at least when they're not diced up, soar high. This is a unique sound the band have forged here.
However, even getting past my "Ugh, it isn't In Rainbows" expectations, there is still some fault to find here. For one, having a restless sound that can't be nailed down can be invigorating at first, but it does grow a bit stale. When the weighty piano ballad, "Codex" comes at track six, it's refreshing that the song feels mostly intact. Also, the entire album is only eight tracks, the shortest ever for this band. This isn't necessarily a negative, but when the music feels so weightless, overall, the short length feels a bit cheaper. In some ways, The King of Limbs feels more like a quick thought than an album. Thankfully, though, despite the short tracklist and occasional feelings of restlessness, the album's positives are bountiful.
Opener, "Bloom," might be the most ascendant song in the band's catalogue, establishing the album's sound, even as it takes flight and soars past it. The diced up guitar and rhythm combine with a stunning Tom Yorke vocal and, of all things, a flugelhorn, to create a sense of sky, the ground far below a majestic blur. In fact, so majestic that the BBC paired composer Hans Zimmer with the band to create a new version of the song to theme their Blue Planet II.
As powerful as that version is, I actually prefer the headrush of the album version, with its Asian textures and more intimate setting, though the climax of the BBC version is almost so transcendentally emotional it is unreal, especially coupled with the BBC's gorgeous ocean imagery. It also helps that the opening verse is the most beautiful lyric Yorke ever penned:
Open your mouth wide
The universal sigh
And while the ocean blooms
It's what keeps me alive
"So why does this still hurt?"
Don't blow your mind with whys
Well, after that, just about anything would be a letdown. "Morning Mr Magpie" is a good natured, quiet and jittery little thing that's close to harmless. "Little by Little" is a little more forceful with its rhythm, creating a lot of momentum that is slightly squandered by the choppy and aimless instrumental, "Feral." This is immediately followed by the album's single "Lotus Flower," a funky, atmospheric song that really lets Greenwood's bass shine. It's not bad to dance to either.
Where the opener and earlier tracks conveyed a feeling of morning and blue skies, "Lotus Flower" brings on a feeling of night, which leads into the dark, piano-led "Codex." Continuing with the nature imagery that is certainly intentional, the music and lyrics of "Codex" are more evocative of a lake at night, pensive and moody. It's a bit gloomy, but well placed, as it is immediately followed by the sound of birds singing and golden sunrise coming through the curtains of "Give Up the Ghost." I've increasingly described Yorke's vocals as "vulnerable" in these last couple of reviews, but this is Yorke at his most vulnerable, totally emotionally exposed as he continuously sings "Don't hurt me," and "Into your arms," his vocals layered and layered on top of each other until he croons "I think I should give up the ghost." Not to get too emo on you, but years after my first listen, the 12th or so time I had heard Yorke hit the note at the end of the word "ghost," I suddenly started sobbing and realized that my bias against this album had been defeated. I love when reviews turn into me feeling like I am having a conversation with the album I am reviewing. Self-revelatory.
The album then ends with "Separator," a light, skippy, almost slight track, except for the reverb-drenched repeated outro vocal, "If you think this is over, then you're wrong/wake me up." This song sums up The King of Limbs to me. Not the most consequential work in Radiohead's catalogue, but one with enough exceptional moments to make it worthwhile. At that particular point in the band's career, after a decade-and-a-half of bearing the weight of having to top themselves again and again, perhaps The King of Limbs is exactly the album Radiohead needed to make.
1. Bloom 5:15
2. Morning Mr Magpie 4:41
3. Little by Little 4:27
4. Feral 3:13
5. Lotus Flower 5:01
6. Codex 4:47
7. Give Up the Ghost 4:50
8. Separator 5:20
Thursday, October 12, 2017
In 2007, I most definitely was not thinking about Radiohead. Sure, I had had magical experiences with their music in the past, but I was soured by Hail to the Thief (at least until the 2008 In Rainbows tour), and hadn't spun their other albums in quite a while. Before completely forgetting about them, I'd even begun considering the band derogatorily as "that downer band," thinking it quite easy to make powerfully negative albums as opposed to positive ones.
On an out of the blue October 1st, 2007, I saw a surprise announcement that the band had secretly completed a new album, and would be digitally releasing it for a pay-what-you-want price (even $0) on their own website in just 10 days. My interest was piqued at this before unheard of musical business model, but not enough to download the album on the 10th.
Thankfully, though, in the fall of 2007, I was experiencing firsthand the greatest workplace environment to ever exist: the circulation department of the Main Branch of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library. Ten days after that Radiohead announcement, Chris, a co-worker who was always passing good stuff on to me (he'd get me Doctor Who episodes the moment they aired on BBC, back when that was a big deal) brought me a burned copy of Radiohead's new album, In Rainbows (don't freak out, I paid cold, hard cash for a vinyl copy a few months later). His wife Mary, who also worked in the circulation department, was a big Radiohead fan, so when he burned her a copy, he did one extra for me. The best part is that they weren't even the only people who gave me music and other media on a regular basis. Another co-worker (an co-former KLSU DJ), Eric, has contributed an entire shelf to my music collection (you can now hear him every week on 96.9 FM, where he broadcasts his show, Subterranean Nation). I also read Ulysses, The Brothers Karamazov, and every Harry Potter book at that library. What a great place to work.
Anyway, despite my previous reservations, I popped In Rainbows into my car stereo. The album itself was shocking. Radiohead, that Radiohead, seemed, like me at work, to be having fun. Not just on a song or two. On the whole album. And the album wasn't all dark and dreary, wither. Sure, there was a darkness, but it was all lush, and sultry, and sexy. Yes, this bunch of nerdy old codgers were making music that was sexy. What was happening? Was the world, as the band had posited in their own music so many times before, coming to an end?
I think 2007 featured a lot of great new music, and I was in one of those nice, peaceful places in life, so this review may be a bit biased. In Rainbows hits a sweet spot for me. In mood, it's most definitely a night album. It starts off with a lot of fun energy before exploring some more sensual tempos and textures. It's not like the early parts of the album sound like a bunch of anthropomorphic sunflowers dancing around on a wooden fence, though. Actually, that sounds terrifying. Anyway, this is still Radiohead. There's still a darkness, but it's strangely comforting. The band, operating out of a more traditional vocals/guitar/bass/drums mold, use strings and electronics to help create a warm, enveloping sound. This may be the hardest Radiohead album to describe to an outsider, which is why I am using such many staccato descriptions.
In Rainbows is just good. The ten track brevity is incredibly appreciated after the bloat of Hail to the Thief. The pacing is perfect. I love the way that the album's atmosphere thickens as it goes along, particularly with "Reckoner" and "House of Cards." The evocative acoustic guitar and strings combo of two-minute middle track "Faust Arp" is a perfect breather. Everything just works here.
I can't express enough how done I was with this band before the release of In Rainbows. In Rainbows not only reinvigorated my fandom, but completely recontextualized the band's previous works for me. Radiohead are not a one-note act. Radiohead are a multi-faceted band, capable of evoking many disparate emotions and feelings. In Rainbows showcases that more than ever. The desperate fate of man might be a pet-topic for Thom Yorke, but its not all he can sing about. In Rainbows, with its more personal, more universal lyrics, vocalized by some of Yorke's most open, vulnerable singing ever, proves that.
If you've ever wanted to get into Radiohead in the past, but found them too dreary, In Rainbows is your access point. This is an invigorating album. It not only changed the business model for how albums are sold, but it may have subtly influenced popular rock music more than any of the band's previous works--you can make a masterpiece without wallowing in despair. In a post-Y2K, post-9/11 world, that was and still is an important concept to master. The world didn't end, and it's time to make the best of it.
1. 15 Step 3:58
2. Bodysnatchers 4:02
3. Nude 4:15
4. Weird Fishes/Arpeggi 5:18
5. All I Need 3:49
6. Faust Arp 2:10
7. Reckoner 4:50
8. House of Cards 5:28
9. Jigsaw Falling into Place 4:09
10. Videotape 4:40
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Almost every band I feel a strong emotional connection to has an album that I unfairly malign upon its release, only to come back to and love later. Hail to the Thief didn't really have a chance with me in 2003. I could feel myself becoming more politically agitated as the year wore on, and an album which focused on all the stuff I was already angry about didn't really seem appealing to me. I wanted to escape from all that stuff. Plus, four-minute alternative rock songs instead of the vast experimentation of the last two albums? No thanks! Hail to the Thief also seemed like a big downer at a time when I was already...on a downer. I purchased this right about the time I began an anxiety-fueled migraine that lasted nine months--if you haven't figured it out by this point, The Nicsperiment is not a normal person.
Thus, Hail to the Thief was relegated to my CD shelf never to return again... Just kidding, it did return five years later. I won't spoil my upcoming review of Radiohead's 2007 release, In Rainbows...I will simply state that it restored my love for the band, and inspired me to ride out to Houston with a van-load of friends and family to catch Radiohead on their In Rainbows tour. On the way their, I had a long talk about life with my cousin Jessica, who always seems to offer a perspective I haven't yet considered. She vastly disagreed with my opinion of Hail to the Thief, and suggested I give it another listen on its own merits, free from my own expectations.
Later that night, at the incredible show, one of the most overwhelmingly powerful live performances by a live band I have ever seen, something strange happened: my favorite moments were from Hail to the Thief. "Where I End and You Begin," a song I had barely even noticed before, reduced me to tears, even as it sent my body into strange writhing motions that can only be described as "The Nicsperiment dancing." "There There," which I admittedly did enjoy before, became stratospheric. "The Gloaming" went from gloomy bore to fun.
Jessica was right. Time to reevaluate.
Radiohead are a complicated band, and Hail to the Thief, composed of 14 tracks, and running nearly an hour, is a complicated album. In the face of a war begun under false pretenses, a highly controversial presidential election, and a post-9/11 malaise that felt it would never end, Hail to the Thief is a defeated album, even for Radiohead. At the same time, if your head is in the right space, it's a lot of fun. Radiohead have never haphazardly recorded and released music like this before or since. In this one instance, they forced themselves to work quickly and send to market what they had created before they had time to overthink anything. Because of this, Hail to the Thief is at once too long, with songs piled up without winnowing, and incomplete. For instance, that previously mentioned live performance of "The Gloaming" featured a rocking, triumphant outro the band hadn't conceived of back in 2003, when Hail to the Thief was released. On the album, the song just sort of ends.
On the other hand, it's nice to hear the band acting on the fly without second guessing themselves. There is a certain livewire, firecracker feeling to Hail to the Thief that the band's other work lacks. You can see them throwing a lot of stuff at the wall, even if they aren't necessarily concerning themselves with what sticks where. The slow, b-movie horror stomp of "We suck Young Blood" is likely meant to be tongue in cheek, but placing it after the sky-scraping emotional power of "Where I End and You Begin," relegates it to camp. The minimalist, dark balladry of "I Will" is fine, but it slows the momentum of "There, There" heading into the fun, funky "A Punchup at a Wedding." This can make the album a bit of a slog, particularly when vocalist, Thom Yorke, already seems so beaten. The album's closing lyrics are:
I keep the wolf from the door
But he calls me up
Calls me on the phone
Tells me all the ways that he's gonna mess me up
Steal all my children if I don't pay the ransom
And I'll never see them again if I squeal to the cops
So I'm you just gonna...
Well, maybe "squealing" is the victory. Whatever the case, Hail to the Thief is flawed, but I can't deny its immediate power. The band wield despair here like never before. Tell me this performance of "Where I End and You Begin," which matches the album version's power, doesn't give you the chills.
"Where I End and You Begin" takes lessons the band learned from their experimental period, but puts them into a more immediate setting--instead of sweating over electronic manipulation for months, the band throw on-the-fly electronics into a more traditional alternative rock sound to create something more intense than anything they've ever made. The tension between the two is quite palpable and electric. The band experiences enough hits throughout the album by doing this that Hail to the Thief's strengths, over time, inexorably crush its flaws.
Fourteen years later, outside of dredging them up for this review, the flaws can't touch the album's highs. At the same time, the tension in the album created by everything I've already mentioned is an excellent encapsulation of the time it was made--I don't think Hail to the Thief could have been created in any year other than 2003--the year that gave me the nine-month migraine from hell. Removed from that year, "There There," and all of Hail to the Thief's wandering, aimless walk through these dangerous musical woods is more timeless than ever.
1. 2 + 2 = 5 (The Lukewarm.) 3:19
2. Sit down. Stand up. (Snakes & Ladders.) 4:19
3. Sail to the Moon. (Brush the Cobwebs out of the Sky.) 4:18
4. Backdrifts. (Honeymoon is Over.) 5:22
5. Go to Sleep. (Little Man being Erased.) 3:21
6. Where I End and You Begin. (The Sky is Falling in.) 4:29
7. We suck Young Blood. (Your Time is up.) 4:56
8. The Gloaming. (Softly Open our Mouths in the Cold.) 3:32
9. There there. (The Boney King of Nowhere.) 5:25
10. I Will. (No man's Land.) 1:59
11. A Punchup at a Wedding. (No no no no no no no no.) 4:57
12. Myxomatosis. (Judge, Jury & Executioner.) 3:52
13. Scatterbrain. (As Dead as Leaves.) 3:21
14. A Wolf at the Door. (It Girl. Rag Doll.) 3:21
Thursday, October 05, 2017
For me, Kid A and Amnesiac exist in the same musical world. Kid A is blurry, and Amnesiac is a vision of that world come into focus. It's like an optometrist putting a new lens in front of a patient's eyes, and asking, "How does it look now?" Kid A is largely icy electronics, ghostly, alienating vocals, and only a bit of organic instrumentation. The world it paints, to me at least, is one of a post-apocalyptic, post-Western Civilization landscape, bathed in strange, cold light; artifacts of the world-that-was only curiosities for whoever is left. Jagged lines reveal themselves to be skeletal trees, fuzzy distance to be the background of a 1930's cartoon. Amnesiac puts that world into focus with more organic instrumentation--i.e. a lot more electric guitar and real drums, even strings--but it doesn't abandon the heavy lean on electronics. When the organic instruments arrive, they sound warmer. For instance, horns appear on one Kid A song and one Amnesiac song--the horns on Kid A sound like they are played by malfunctioning robots, butAmnesiac's feel human, even if they are ancient and ghostly. More than anything, though, more than my nebulous blurry vs. in-focus description is this simple fact: Kid A is tense, and Amnesiac is relaxed. Even though there is certainly tension within these songs, there is a certain airy freedom, a sense of space and unpredictability throughout Amnesiac. This becomes especially clear in its raucous, jazz funeral ending--that while this might be serious, incredible music, it is still incredibly fun. This is why, while I love Kid A dearly, I will give a possibly unpopular opinion: Amnesiac is my favorite Radiohead album.
I'll close this review, which frankly, as I've said all I need to say, doesn't need to be any longer than this, with a quote from Evan Pricco's 2010 Juxtapoz interview of Radiohead's longtime artistic collaborator, Stanley Donwood:
How come you don’t live in London?
Because there you can’t get out. You can’t see the countryside. It’s too flat. I grew up in Essex County and it was very flat, and very close to London. Funny enough, though, London is my favorite city in the world. In a fucked up way, though.
I’m really into the history of a place, and the first thing I do when I’m in a place like San Francisco is say, “How did all this stuff get here, and what was here before?” And a lot of American history has been erased, a lot of the Native American culture and history destroyed. But in London you get a full history of things. People have been writing about it for 1,000 years. When I wander through London, I feel like I’m drifting through the autumn leaves of the past.
London is probably dying as a city, it probably won’t last another 100 years in terms of economic and political influence. The influence is waning. So I walk through this faded city, and everywhere I go, every name of a street means something, there is a story. And you can picture very clearly how everything in London looked 100 years ago, 200, 500… its all there. It’s all written about. That is why I love London.
And that is what all the artwork I did for the Radiohead album Amnesiac is all about: London as an imaginary prison, a place where you can walk around and you are the Minotaur of London, we are all the monsters, we are all half human half beast. We are trapped in this maze of this past.
So Amnesiac was a London album?
For me it was. The work I did on Amnesiac was done by me taking the train to London, getting lost and taking notes.
And that was sort of what the album was about, wasn’t it? Like finding all these historical documents in someone’s attic from a hundred years ago. Nothing sounds like it goes together, but there is this voice that links it all together, verifying that its from the same culture. That’s an amazingly underrated album.
We wanted it to be a like a book. And someone made these pages in a book and it went into drawer in a desk and was forgotten about in the attic. And the attic was then forgotten. And visually and musically the album is about finding the book and opening the pages. And that is why I wanted to make that physical book with the album that we did.
1. Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box 4:00
2. Pyramid Song 4:49
3. Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors ([note 1]) 4:07
4. You and Whose Army? 3:11
5. I Might Be Wrong 4:54
6. Knives Out 4:15
7. Morning Bell/Amnesiac 3:14
8. Dollars and Cents 4:52
9. Hunting Bears 2:01
10. Like Spinning Plates 3:57
11. Life in a Glasshouse 4:34
Monday, October 02, 2017
Where's the guitar? If there's a joke to be made at the "listen to the album once while texting someone, then write a definitive review of the entire album" mentality's expense--and there are even more jokes to be made at that mentality's expense than there are words in this sentence--it's in the groupspeak reevaluations that invariably occur ten years after any truly great album was initially greeted lukewarmly. Then again, we are reaching peak mass to a degree that I wonder if any album released after 2010 is ever going to be reevaluated. There are too many of them, and genres have splintered and sub-splintered to a degree that the only people posting retrospectives will be blogs like this one visited only in the thousands per-month, all retrospecting different things so that it all only adds up to so much noise. Yep, I, the Nicsperiment, am noise. I just admitted it...
But of course, I love the sound of my own voice, and I set up this review with that lumbering intro simply to point out the fact that critics largely dismissed Kid A at the time of its release, wondering what happened to the old alternative rock band, confused by this experimental entity in its place. Then, all of a sudden, it's the greatest album of the 00's. My own nearly eight-year-old "HOT TAKE!!!" best albums of the 00's list put it at number one, as well. Now that I am older (I could be President now!) and considerably less hot-takey, I'd love to make a new best albums of the 00's list. However, I am not sure if I would replace the album in the top spot. Do I hate that I posted an opinion agreed upon by Pitchfork? Does Pitchfork even still exist? I'd type in the URL to check, but I didn't sleep well last night, and I don't feel like it. But yes, I do hate that not only did I post an opinion similar to Pitchfork's, but also that I cannot make fun of them for suddenly changing their minds about Kid A. They always thought it was perfect. However, I must say, I did, too.
* * *Before Blockbuster Video became obsolete, Blockbuster Music became obsolete. Actually, our Blockbuster Music become Wherehouse Music, and then FYE, and now it's an empty building with a FOR SALE sign in front, which really makes me miss the 90's and 00's, random college nights digging through CD racks with friends. I also miss seeing posters of gorgeous album artwork plastered on Blockbuster/Wherehouse/FYE walls, which, if it was good enough, could coerce me into buying an album I'd never heard a song from. This happened one beautiful spring afternoon when I purchased a double-whammy of The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and Radiohead's Kid A, Kid A's jagged, forlorn, majestic mountain peaks rising on the store wall, Yoshimi a marvel of graphic design. I dig that Flaming Lips album...at least the first half of it, but that drive home, and my subsequent hours of music listening were dedicated to Kid A. I felt transported. The gorgeous, dense CD booklet, full of incredible artwork heightened the experience even more--it was like I was unearthing artifacts from another world--you can even remove the back of the CD jewel case to see secret messages! Yes, jewel case! This really is an artifact from another world!
And get this: the CD version is actually the definitive one--the vinyl has a minimalist version of the original artwork, missing its secret messages and most key image. But what about the music?
* * *I'll do a breakdown of song emotions, as I did for OK Computer, in a moment. First, I'd like to say something about the album as a whole, and why it checks off my boxes, but may not check yours.
World-building and musical storytelling are extremely important to me in an album. By that, I mean that I like albums that exude a cohesive tone and feeling, and that follow some kind of consistent emotional arc--the first track sounds like an opening, the last track sounds like a closer, and what comes in between follows a natural path from the first point to the last. Surprisingly, few albums actually do this. In fact, you could just shuffle most of them and never know the difference. They're more a collection of songs. A bunch of random Polaroids instead of photographs ordered deliberately to tell a story. I don't mean that I only like concept albums, but albums with a cohesive emotional flow. Kid A's got a Nile's worth of that. Again, as Kid A has been pontificated about to a great degree in a great degree of groupspeak, I feel it will be more worthwhile to break the album down by my emotional reactions to each of the ten tracks, particularly as those reactions have changed little in the last fifteen years:
1. "Everything in Its Right Place" From the icy, isolating opening keyboard tones, this album immediately envelops you. Even though this song is barely more than Thom Yorke's vocals, haunted by distortions of itself over the aforementioned keyboard and cold electronics, the listener is plunged into a unique aural dimension, continued with...
2. "Kid A" This song starts off like a suddenly come to life late-night railroad crossing in a mountainous, alien, blue-ice-toned landscape, as strange aurora blossom overhead. One can easily picture that landscape dotted by enormous, incomprehensible glacial shapes, as the floating train of Thom Yorke's nearly illegible computerized vocals cheerfully tell a story of horror over a glitchy, ice-tapped beat.
3. "The National Anthem" The best proof that this is a completely transportive dive into a fully-realized world of Radiohead's creation: The first song to sound anything like a "full band" song is the most unsettling yet, even though it's one of the most fun songs the band ever recorded. A propulsive bassline and funky drumbeat highlight the band's newfound reliance on rhythm, with atmospheric, space-filling spectral sweeps in the place of guitars, punctuated by a funky, insane chorus of horns, and strange radio snippets.
4. "How to Disappear Completely" A terrifying, acoustic-guitar-based track, pierced by the album's secret all-star, a Johnny Greenwood played ondes Martenot. The ondes Martenot is an ancient electronic instrument. It sounds like a jar full of ghosts. Thom Yorke's repeated utterance of "I'm not here. this isn't happening" is his quintessential alienation and depersonalization lyric.
5. "Treefingers" I love how this electronic instrumental is so warm, comforting, and organic, after the coldness and discomfort of the first four tracks. It's like a breather. It reminds me of NIN's "A Warm Place" in that way.
6. "Optimistic" Perhaps the only true full band song on the album, with jangly guitar, earth-rumbling drums, and everyone playing a rather normal part, even as Yorke's "You can try the best you can, the best you can is good enough" sounds about as sincere as a Presidential handshake, especially when he follows it up with "...dinosaurs roaming the Earth," further bringing home the apocalyptic feeling I keep mentioning. There's a picture in the CD booklet that looks like future humans marveling at the detritus of our current civilization, which fits this album just perfectly.
7. "In Limbo" A really beautiful song with some gorgeous, circular, atmospheric guitar lines, evoking a feeling of getting lost in the woods...
8. "Idioteque" And what do you find there but this icily beautiful electronic nightmare, Yorke howling "women and children first" over a savage beat and creepy drones. This song sold me on Radiohead, and for all its insanity, even my seven-year thinks it's a really fun song.
9. "Morning Bell" I love the fact that, though this song is an intentional come-down from "Idioteque," it still keeps momentum going. I also love how spaced-out, disconnected, yet strangely emotional and urgent Yorke makes the lyrics feel, juxtaposing the "women and children first" line of the previous song with this one's "cut the kids in half."
10. "Motion Picture Soundtrack" A bizarro closer, with harps and organ, like having a depressing meal in a 1940's restaurant while an unconvincing friend tells you everything is going to be okay. I love the silence afterward before the short hidden track. Hidden sound might be more apt, a gorgeous electronic object streaking through the sky, crashing into the ocean, and then illuminating the surface, promising some sort of new and beautiful change.
1. Everything in Its Right Place 4:11
2. Kid A 4:44
3. The National Anthem 5:51
4. How to Disappear Completely 5:56
5. Treefingers 3:42
6. Optimistic 5:15
7. In Limbo 3:31
8. Idioteque 5:09
9. Morning Bell 4:35
10. Motion Picture Soundtrack 7:00
Friday, September 22, 2017
Radiohead excavated the buried treasure of their true gift at the end of sophomore album, The Bends: the ability to convey despair. Since they pulled this musical feeling from the pit of their hearts, they've little deviated from it, even as their sound changes in leaps and bounds.
From the first notes of Radiohead's junior effort, OK Computer, the music espouses a certain feeling tragedy like everything in the world is irrevocably wrong. As, I said above, this feeling would dominate the next ten years of Radiohead's work, until In Rainbows let in just a little light. I find all four of the albums Radiohead released between 1997-2003, despite their aural differences, to be thematically and emotionally interconnected--as singular as OK Computer is, taken as a part of a greater whole, it is even more magnificent. Musically, OK Computer takes the instruments from the previous guitar-driven rock work of the band's first two albums, and hands them to ghosts. This music sounds like it was recorded by the spectres of humanity after the apocalypse, and sent back as a haunting to their formerly living selves. Kid A, which I'll get to next, sounds like it takes place in the rubble of this apocalypse (that I am creating as my own narrative because 500,000 think pieces have been written in the last few months in support of OK Computer's 20th year anniversary, and if I'm going to add a 500,001st, I might as well make it my own...otherwise, why add to the noise?).
The band achieved OK Computer's spectral sound by heavily experimenting with effects pedals and electronics, while beefing up and giving greater prominence to their rhythm section. At the same time, it is clear that each of the players have greatly increased in talent and experience--these songs never start to blur together to me the way The Bends' do after a while. Vocalist/lyricist, Thom Yorke, has mastered the finer facets of his voice, and uses it to the emotional hilt, fully exercising his shrill, yet enjoyable falsetto at moments of peak feeling--something that The Nicsperiment, who can only sing on pitch in his falsetto, greatly appreciates.
Yorke's lyrics have morphed here from straightforward declarations of personal feeling, to metaphorical, metaphysical cultural commentary. He strongly excels at this...actually, the entire band strongly excel at everything they attempt here, giving Gen X their own Dark Side of the Moon, or whatever Baby Boomer rock album you think wildly and trippily experiments, while putting a hat on the alienating feelings of the time.
Critics have broken down these songs on a technical level to such a vast degree, it is nearly pointless for me to do the same, so the only thing that seems relevant is attempting to convey my own emotional reaction to OK Computer. The funny thing is that, living and attending high school in a rural town, with only the local college radio station to let me know what was considered cool, my initial contact with OK Computer was limited. I didn't really get into the band until they released Kid A, and honestly, seeing the artwork at the record store intrigued me to purchase that album as much as the music did. The random songs I did hear from OK Computer, like for instance, "Karma Police," or "No Surprises," didn't really tickle my fancy. It was not until a few years later, after Kid A, that I heard OK Computer in sequence, and experienced those songs true, monstrous power. So in that spirit, in sequence, how about I list the tracks side by side with a corresponding feeling.
1. "Airbag" "From an interstellar burst, I am back to save the universe..." The task of this tragic, cosmic hero feels full of despairing futility, on an epic, universal stage.
2. "Paranoid Android" The despair becomes earthbound, hyperkinetic.
3. "Subterranean Homesick Alien" And suddenly things are chill, and a bit wistful, staring at the stars over tall pines.
4. "Exit Music (For a Film)" Until the quiet hate of this song, with "We hope that you choke" never sung so softly, and yet with such veracity, burns that forest down.
5. "Let Down" Total depression, so damn beautiful in its twinkly chimes like a wake-up call to the reality of fruitless striving, but it takes "Everything Meaningless" to such a monumental, universal level, that it's infinitely crushing, "Let down and hanging around, crushed like a bug in the ground," the rhythm section a boot, stomping you down. Makes me think of the album cover more than any song here. My favorite song from OK Computer, analogous to the "American Radiohead," Appleseed Cast's "Rooms and Gardens." Let me go sob despondently for a moment.
6. "Karma Police" This song is like you drop out of the last song into a quiet, brown-grey street, and are immediately and nonsensically arrested.
7. "Fitter Happier" The automated spoken word of this song might be more depressing than "Let Down." This album, by this point, would be the hugest downer ever recorded, if not for the singular artistry on display.
8. "Electioneering" Suddenly, things get wild and fun, out of control, even though it feels just a little wrong, like things are going off the rails.
9. "Climbing Up the Walls" They don't want to choke you anymore, they want to creep up behind you and, in a moment of supreme terror, bash your skull in.
10. "No Surprises" Well after all that, as you lie half-dead in the gutter, things might as well get a little twinkly again.
11. "Lucky" Another thing that draws the thin line demarcating this album in the masterpiece quadrant, and out of the depressing drag one--the inexplicably positive lyrics of this song, like "I feel my luck could change."
12. "The Tourist" There's some bizarre closure to this song that makes it feel like it could go on forever in its demands, "Hey man, slow down. Idiot! Slow down!" infinity being the very opposite of closure. This album is perfect. On to the apocalypse. After the following rabbit-trail:
If you've never suffered from depression, just imagine this song as your mindset every waking second. You can't move. And just like the middle of a depressive episode, it feels like there's no end or hope in sight. Of course, there is, but when you're in the middle of it, that doesn't even seem like an option or possibility. "Let Down" thoroughly encapsulates these feelings better than any other piece of music I've heard.
Sorry for this digression, but I'd be remiss to review this album, say I'm getting personal, and then not mention this. Thankfully, if your life is this song, there are ways out. From someone who's been there--and in the sense that this is something that must be actively fought for a lifetime, even if I feel fine right now, is there--there's no shame in finding help.
1. Airbag 4:44
2. Paranoid Android 6:23
3. Subterranean Homesick Alien 4:27
4. Exit Music (For a Film) 4:24
5. Let Down 4:59
6. Karma Police 4:21
7. Fitter Happier 1:57
8. Electioneering 3:50
9. Climbing Up the Walls 4:45
10. No Surprises 3:48
11. Lucky 4:19
12. The Tourist 5:24
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
I didn't get into Radiohead until Kid A and Amnesiac, which came out, respectively, when I was in college. I loved the experimentation and atmosphere of those two albums, but was amused by comments from many long-term fans, and several fellow college DJ's who wished Radiohead "would get back to the three-guitar rock of The Bends." Surely, I thought, The Bends can't be as good as Kid A and Amnesiac.
I won't bury the lead: I do not think The Bends is as good as 2000's Kid A and 2001's Amnesiac. My favorite albums flow organically as albums, don't drag on too long, and finish exactly when they should. The Bends is a really good album. It is full of great alternative rock songs, with some great singing from Thom Yorke, who uses his falsetto to full affect. The band utilizes three guitars, and while the multiple guitar parts aren't always distinct, they form a warm, full sound, amplified by Johnny Greenwood's pursuit of interesting effects. The rhythm section are solid, though firmly relegated to supporting players, though this would become less and less true with each subsequent album. The songwriting is solid, and each track sounds like it could be coming out of a football stadium's speakers. Yorke, in particular here, really has a flair for the dramatic, as songs like the weepy ballad, "Fake Plastic Trees," feature impressive levels of emotion. In fact, you can easily visualize a hyper-emotional late 90's British tele-drama starring a young James McAvoy, as he stares out a rainy dorm room window, sulking about a girl, while many of these songs are playing--and I don't mean that as a negative. The Bends does go on too long, though, and I do mean that as a negative--somewhere around "Bullet Proof...I Wish I Was," The Bends' ninth track, I generally check out. Checking out would be a mistake, though, as album closer, "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" is one of the band's greatest songs, and an all-time great song, period. It is an unbelievably stark portrait of despair, and it hints at what's to come from this great band.
However, at the end of the day, Radiohead's subsequent albums feature a culturally transcendent, timeless quality, and The Bends, outside of "Street Spirit," is just a great bit of fun.
1. Planet Telex 4:19
2. The Bends 4:06
3. High and Dry 4:17
4. Fake Plastic Trees 4:50
5. Bones 3:09
6. (Nice Dream) 3:53
7. Just 3:54
8. My Iron Lung 4:36
9. Bullet Proof..I Wish I Was 3:28
10. Black Star 4:07
11. Sulk 3:42
12. Street Spirit (Fade Out) 4:12
Thursday, September 14, 2017
"Inauspicious." Radiohead's debut album, Pablo Honey, borders on this classification. Radiohead, known for pushing borders just years later, began their career as a fairly generic mid-90's alt-rock band. I posited a theory three years ago that several nations have produced their own equivalent of a Radiohead. The Appleseed Cast in America (this is not a rogue opinion). Kent in Sweden. Kashmir in Denmark. All four pushed the rock music format into startling new territories, but not before kicking off their careers with non-noteworthy, yet enjoyable debuts. Radiohead's does feature a bona fide hit, though, in "Creep," a song from which the band have spent most of their career distancing themselves. "Creep" features a certain pop-chorus, belt-it-at-the-bar feeling none of the band's other songs inhabit, even on this album. However, "Creep" isn't the only departure from later Radiohead.
Through the entirety of Pablo Honey, vocalist, Thom Yorke, lyricises with more transparency than on any of the band's later work, singing nakedly about romantic relationships as his mates plug away at the aforementioned generic alt-rock sound. The music does begin to yield fruit as the album jangles along, particularly in its latter moments, with the emotive guitar of "Lurgee," and the extended psychedelic freak out of a closer, "Blow Out," a harbinger for the anxiety-laden atmosphere Radiohead would soon explore in full. While Pablo Honey might not blow anyone's mind, as debuts go, you could do a lot worse. Radiohead have nothing to be ashamed of here.
Radiohead - Blow Out [Pablo Honey] from faustidioteque on Vimeo.
1. You 3:29
2. Creep 3:56
3. How Do You? 2:12
4. Stop Whispering 5:26
5. Thinking About You 2:41
6. Anyone Can Play Guitar 3:38
7. Ripcord 3:10
8. Vegetable 3:13
9. Prove Yourself 2:25
10. I Can't 4:13
11. Lurgee 3:08
12. Blow Out 4:40
Monday, September 11, 2017
Cool cache for hipsters who can't even comprehend them. The band who changed how music is sold. Musical interpreters of the modern age. In all the talk about cultural impact, marketplace impact, aesthetic impact, blah, blah, blah, something about Radiohead is generally lost in the mix: they are a great band who has created incredible music.
Coming up soon: The Nicsperiment breaks down every Radiohead album...while also focusing on all that other crap, too. How lucky for you, gentle reader. It's like you followed the rainbow and these reviews were in the pot of gold.
Thursday, August 31, 2017
P, you nearly killed me. Well, not you, but somebody nearly killed me while I was writing you. And my wife had major surgery. And my son caught pneumonia. And that is all in the last month. But then again, now I have a new vehicle I like immeasurably more than the last one. My wife and son are well. And you, P, are finished. On to Q. Wait, do I even have any Q's? Wait...none? Not even like a Queens of the Stone Age album or anything? Not even Queen? Nothing? Oh, well. On to R...starting with one of my favorite bands of all time...after these brief messages from our sponsors!
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Beware the accolades of ancient hipsters.
Public Image, Ltd.'s 1979 release, Second Edition, is one of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all times. It's a: Post-punk masterpiece! Avant-garde epic!
Public Image, Ltd.'s Second Edition is a landmark album only in that they got a major label to somehow release it. Some great basic ingredients are here. Jah Wobble (Google how he got this name, it's hilarious) is an excellent bassist for a beginner, and he lays down the bedrock of every track in a sort of punk-reggae-dub hybrid groove. If you buy this album, you'll be buying it for that. The drums are sometimes an excellent complement to the bass, and sometimes just barely passable--multiple people, some not drummers--played the drums on Second Edition. Then we get to the problems. The guitar playing, presaging new wave, and to some extent, the tone of U2's Edge, is sometimes great. Then, without warning, the guitarist will start playing bad notes. I don't know why. Is it some kind of cultural commentary--I could play beautifully...but instead I play badly...just like society?! I love the combination of dominant bass and drums with minimalist, atmosphere-painting guitar, so this could have been right up my alley. I guess my alley ain't dank enough.
Why sabotage your own songs? How can you call this album a classic when it isn't even listenable? Even the odd keyboard touches do little to help. Oh, yeah, and Johnny Rotten on vocals.
Maybe you've heard of the Sex Pistols--Rotten, nee Lydon, fronted that band, too. . In person, Lydon, though he can't sing to save his life, is a force of nature. His off key, off time vocals are a lot easier to accept when his trippy, spiked visage is blurring in and out of your vision. I really enjoy the below live performance, to be honest. I think it presages bands like Radiohead ("Idioteque" comes to mind).
But on record, Lydon's constant wailing is a lot harder to take, as is the entire arrangement.
There are few musical acts I don't enjoy that I wish I did as much as this one. The visual aesthetic and idea of Public Image Ltd. are something I should really love on paper. But yikes, in reality, I don't! What an apt name!
1. Albatross 10:34
2. Memories 5:05
3. Swan Lake 4:11
4. Poptones 7:46
5. Careering 4:32
6. Socialist 3:09
7. Graveyard 3:07
8. The Suit 3:29
9. Bad Baby 4:30
10. No Birds 4:41
11. Chant 5:01
12. Radio 4 4:2
Friday, August 25, 2017
Like most folks who watched the Matrix in the theater, I was most impressed with the lobby shootout scene, and my favorite musical cue from that film was that scene's accompanying track. That was a fun theater experience even before the movie began, as I had to sneak my younger cousin into the film--post-Columbine, society's badly misaimed response was to crack down on movies and video games, instead of simply trying to better understand sociopathy. But The Rabbit and I would not be denied.
I, being of legal age, bought a Matrix ticket for myself, and he bought a ticket for EDtv, which I've heard is lousy. He did not see EDtv that day, and the thrill of sneaking him into that movie makes me feel sorry for kids coming of age in the era of assigned movie seats. How are you supposed to hide comfortably in the back row of Most Recent Sex Comedy or Newest Bloody Action Movie when some old biddy is looking at her stub, then at you, then at the seat, then back at you, then telling you to move? THAT'S ABSOLUTELY INTOLERABLE! SHE'S NOT EVEN GOING TO ENJOY THE MOVIE! THE DEMOGRAPHIC IS "FIFTEEN YEAR-OLD MALE!!!"
Anyway, in the joy that I get to regale of tales of 1999 in two reviews straight, I'm happy to say we got to see The Matrix uninterrupted on the big screen, and I immediately sought out whoever did the bass-centric music for that lobby scene.
Turns out it's a duo called Propellerheads. They have one album to their name, Decksandrumsandrockandroll, a cool blend of drum 'n'bass and cinematic touches, like a big orchestra on the reinvisioning of John Barry's theme to "On Her Majesty's Secret Service (the most underrated Bond film of all time)." Indeed, these tracks seem tailor-made to back the cinema of the late 1990's, carrying that "detritus of the 20th century" vibe I love, also found in say the music of Portishead or The Dust Brothers, though without the downbeat feel of the former, or the dark grimy layers of the latter. This is just cool, fun, mostly instrumental music, with a great energy, timeless in its datedness...and also, very, very British.
Decksandrumsandrockandroll does get a little grating in a couple of moments, namely in the repetition of its closer, but the overall quality is surprisingly on par with "Spybreak!," the song from The Matrix that hooked me so long ago.
It's as guilt-free as sneaking your 15-year-old cousin into a classic film!
Also, for some reason, watching them Matrix hasn't yet inspired him to recreate its violence.
I THOUGHT THEY SAID IT WAS THE MOVIES AND VIDEOGAMES!!!*
*movies and video games shown to cause mass incidents of run-on sentences and ALL CAPS
1. Take California 7:21
2. Velvet Pants 5:46
3. Better? 2:03
4. 360° (Oh Yeah?) 4:27
5. History Repeating 4:02
6. Winning Style 5:58
7. Bang On! 5:44
8. A Number Of Microphones 0:45
9. On Her Majesty's Secret Service 9:20
10. Bigger? 2:20
11. Cominagetcha 7:02
12. Spybreak! 6:58
13. You Want It Back 5:59