Sunday, February 20, 2011

Radiohead - The King of Limbs

Radiohead - The King of Limbs
I think Radiohead might be the only band left whose album releases are still an event to me. Then again, they're probably the only band from my formative musical years (about 1995-2000) still releasing albums of any import. I don't light candles and drink a glass of port the first time I listen to a Radiohead album, but I do listen to it on the best stereo system available to me and make sure I'm not interrupted. Then I repeat the experience on headphones. There's an alternating pattern with each post OK Computer album (ie each one whose release I've had to wait for) that I've only just noticed: Kid A (2000) and Hail to the Thief (2003) took a while for their charms to become apparent to me, whereas Amnesiac (2001) and In Rainbows (2007) were more or less an open book. The King of Limbs is consistent with this pattern...I think.

Headphones are definitely the best way to experience The King of Limbs. You don't need Sennheiser 555s like I have, but I implore you to upgrade if you're using the pathetic Apple earbuds. The opening track "Bloom" makes more sense this way - it's more textural, which is important considering it's pretty much all percussion, loops and vocals. "Good Morning Mr. Magpie" continues the electronic bent in a more straightforward way and is pretty underwhelming, and later on, "Feral" embodies the anti Kid A straw man "it's all bleeps and shit!"

I should point out that I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the "OMG WHERE ARE TEH GUITARS?!" Party. I respect Radiohead's musicianship more than enough to implicitly trust them and follow them down whichever musical avenues they're inclined to go down, as long as they do it well. "Lotus Flower" channels their electronic impulses in the right direction, sporting a minimalist groove that neither assaults nor sedates the listener and makes Hail to the Thief track "Backdrifts" sound ornate by comparison.

It's the back half, kicked off by "Lotus Flower", that has impressed me the most so far. It's here that you'll also find standouts "Codex" and "Give Up the Ghost". Both are extremely simple, the former based on a few chords from a modulated piano and the latter an equally sparse acoustic number with a strange, looping counter melody that sounds as if Thom is singing "don't love me". Whatever you say, man.

As an event, I found The King of Limbs underwhelming, but then what is one listen? When you've been listening to albums, especially Radiohead albums, as long as I have, you learn not to put too much stock in first impressions. Some of them need time to reveal their secrets, and I'm willing to put in that time. And whether it takes eighteen months or four years, I'll be waiting to see what the next one holds.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
is an amazing return to form after The Hawk is Howling. Mogwai did just about everything wrong on that album, chiefly forgetting their finely honed sense of structure in favour of songs that didn't justify their considerable length and underproducing their live instruments while experimenting with electronic sounds. Hardcore abandons the electronic aspect and doesn't quite follow through on the prospect of traditional "songs" such as the couple on 2006's Mr. Beast - the vocals are few, far between and fucked up. What it does do is expand the Mogwai sound in its own way. It's the most upbeat Mogwai album in...well, ever, and only occasionally relies on the soft-loud dynamic they've fallen back on so many times before. It's mostly loud, and the more maudlin moments, when they come, feel earned. Hawk's experimentation locked out the listener and tested their patience with its long, meandering jams. It was very much a "you can either get into it or you can't" dichotomy. Hardcore, on the other hand, sounds as if it was a very liberating exercise and it lets the listener in on the fun. The very Neu!-sounding "Mexican Grand Prix" and the exuberantly fuzzy "Rano Pano" are probably the biggest surprises. Perhaps the best thing of all is that drummer Stuart Braithwaite - a model of restraint, but more by circumstance than by choice lately - gets to cut loose like he hasn't in ages.

Sex, War & Robots