Album Reviews, Music

Review: Radiohead – Hail to the Thief

hailThe curtain has risen for the next act in Radiohead’s inscrutable rock opera. And like one filled with heavyset women with Viking horns, “Hail to the Thief” leaves the ears and minds with a palpable sense of unconscious design. Since the release of ‘Kid A’, Radiohead have been beating their drum to a distinctly different beat. These rock savants are the front-runners of musical experimentation on an opulent scale and their latest work seems like natural progression. Splicing in elements of both ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac’ and then sprinkling an inkling of their earlier progressive rock, this 14 track assemblage holds true to the dictionary definition of the word “opus”. An artistic work on multiple plateaus, the only element they seem unable to outdo is themselves; a boundary they cast when they unleashed the masterful dexterity of ‘Kid A’.

Pushing musical extremities has been the silver lining to decades worth of industrial common ground but perhaps, in this time where fashion and business so clearly bombard the general buying public, an act that does so (push these boundaries) with genuine panache is heralded as music’s savior. Radiohead are traveling down paths carved before by the likes of Pink Floyd and The Doors of yesteryear and the Flaming Lips of today, and like these aforementioned artists – their long lasting creative appeal will win out in the end, even in a “less than astute” society.

For all the electronic tinkering and jangled instrumental workings of their previous two LPs, it seems Yorke and company are finally comfortable with their new visage. They are no longer breaking conceptions, but rather creating their own – a pretentious ode to themselves; self created gods of music purveying a craft in the genre previously known as ‘rock’.

Thankfully, they are unafraid to trace back to their earlier sounds, “Hail to the Thief” comfortably flaunts morsels of more traditional sounding compositions. Take the tracks “Go to Sleep” (a concoction of guitar twiddling and fringe percussion work) and “Sail to the Moon” (an aural, picturesque piano led number with acerbic lyrics – “maybe you’ll be president / but know right from wrong / or in the flood / you’ll build an Ark” – compounding it’s sense of hopelessness) as examples how they turn the accepted norms of rock arrangements into a seemingly effortless task.

In “Where I End and You Begin”, they seem to beg the question, “can anyone out there keep up with us?” This evocative bass frenzy of engine drumming and wavering vocal toil is adherently simple – but attempted by any other outfit and the result is guaranteed to end in musical miscarriage.

Trust Radiohead to continue their quest to shatter all previously formed ideas of music as art. In “Sit Down. Stand Up”, they once again utilize seeds of ambience and electronic hobnobbing before embarking on a trip of cacophonous delight. Replete with the vestiges of “Idioteque”, the pulsating bounce of the track “Backdrifts” is remarkable soundscaping of tune and dissonance; leaving the mind with lasting inhuman relapse; a textural tumble into digital euphoria.

The first single “There There” is a triumphant balance between this cacophonous delight and artistic cadence. Yorke’s falsetto hum is its operator while the scenic, earthy backdrop is provided by the ancestral sounding instrumental collaboration that is unafraid to be traditional in aesthetic, but eloquently inspired nonetheless. It’s unending sense of confusion, affirmed by the words; “In pitch dark I go walking in your landscape / broken branches trip me as I speak / just cos you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there” are it’s acting thoughts of loneliness and prevailing sadness.

Radiohead are no longer simply out-dueling their musical counterparts. Their latest effort is testament to that notion. They have no equal. Their only antagonism emanates from any inner struggle that may confound them. The political wranglings of the title “Hail to the Thief” aside (a virulent stab at stolen elections), this progression of the Radiohead opera continues to set precedence among its kind (or lack thereof). It is a wonder where they could possibly go from here – do they continue on this jaunt, moving on to the next act, or do they pull another discerning audio/visual contradiction that will leave not only the listener, but the rest of the industry’s hopefuls countless worlds behind.

Album Reviews, Music

Review: Feeder – Comfort In Sound

FeederIt isn’t out of the ordinary that we often seek refuge in words and sounds. Whether we are looking for mere comfort or a much more significant healing, music has, willingly or not, been a source for such recovery. And for those who pen and create these vessels of refuge, it is a most personal form of catharsis. It is difficult to discern the ideology or motives behind a band’s work – its raison d’être usually known only to those who created it – but in a case like this, it seems endlessly more difficult.

Feeder lost their drummer Jon Lee to suicide in early 2002 and this album is the studio work that followed his untimely departure. Aptly titled ‘Comfort in Sound’, it is more than just an album of reflection or homage, it appears to be the resulting cathartic experience of primary song writer Grant Nicholas. The album in its entirety is effectively a well-written emulsion of rock inspired pop sensibilities. While the album on occasion feels overly grief-stricken, it is when we take a look at the finer parts that we finally see a band ultimately reaching its potential.

The instrumentation is mostly simplistic – but it is conducive to some of the album’s less melancholic moments. The opening track “Just the Way I’m Feeling” is a juxtaposition of reflective lyrical humming (“Love in, love out / Find the feeling / Scream in, Scream out / Time for healing / You feel the moment’s gone too soon / You’re watching clouds come over you”) with savvy pop friendly rock. Its vocal driven verse is a prelude to its immense sounding choral release – symbolic of perhaps, just the way Nicholas was feeling.

While there is certainly an underlying tone of healing, some tracks mask this with a more strident approach. In the single “Come Back Around”, the expressive gloom (“Bruised with all rejection / we suffer the breaks”) is interlaced in a vibrant rock track – louder and far more biting than the majority of the album’s manner. It directs you into the fuzzed out “Helium”, its drum pounding and screeching guitar work is then smeared by the almost sweet chorus. “Child in You” is best a quiet ambience; sorrowful and intuitive with seemingly hopeful lyrics; “Close your eyes and drift away to someplace new / Where the skies are blue brings back the child in you” – but captures a more bitter consolation than anything else.

It is in the track “Comfort in Sound” that Nicholas is at his greatest; the healing musician. Tinged with delicate traces of keyboards, profound vocal work and the album’s strongest song structure, it is with this track that perhaps, they have truly found comfort. The sound certainly radiates a reflective nature and its lyrics, the most poignant, “We suffer love together as one / an empty heart with nowhere to turn / we find ourselves looking / back another way / a brand new day”. In a strange twist of events, there are some moments that feel overly aggressive – take the track “Godzilla” for instance; powerful guitars, grating vocals and those thumping drums are seemingly lost, an odd inclusion in this mostly thoughtful effort. Thankfully Nicholas’ aggressive tendencies fade fast, and in the album’s last four tracks, that willful, somber approach is once again adopted; from the distinctly sullen “Quick Fade” to the more vocal “Love Pollution” and the gracious ender “Moonshine”, with perhaps the final mark of respect (“But every time we cry / We wave the sun goodbye.”)

While we cannot say whether or not these lyrical tributes of reflection and healing are of the band’s personal tribulations, it is safe to say that if this album is homage of sorts – it certainly is a noble one; for whomever it is meant for. ‘Comfort in Sound’ is not an innovation or revelation, it is simply what the title states.

Album Reviews, Music

Review: Blur – Think Tank

Find a review of Blur’s ‘Think Tank’ without the mention of Graham Coxon’s departure and this reviewer will happily step up and buy you a beverage if we ever happen to meet. The truth is, Coxon’s departure plays heavily on the sound and atmosphere of this album, whether or not the departure is the direct cause of the result, we may never really know. But this, Blur’s seventh full length offering is much more than just sound and atmosphere, it is an eclectic metamorphosis of a band; distinctly vibrant, diverse and academically cultural.

“Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club” is a wild funk trip into desolate tribal sounding unknowns. Its springy percussion work and new wave sounding electronic fusion is craftily highlighted by Damon Albarn’s chocky, energetic vocals. The track’s jive filled raucous approach makes it accessible to all from the deepest and darkest jungles to the innocent streets of Sesame. It is perhaps a distinct indicator that Blur’s straight forward Britpop outlook has all but evolved.

In “Sweet Song” they demonstrate a far more subdued sound. In it’s almost lounge friendly aura, it tinges with light sophistication – tender bass lines, crooning vocals and a very gentle sprinkle of a certain Tony Bennett (yes, Tony Bennett) quality. It’s an aptly titled tune; perhaps the album’s most serene and beautiful. A far cry from the boisterous “Crazy Beat”; electronically charged and guitar driven, it’s back beat drumming and knob turning effects make it a strange rock hybrid – a spirited tune, but perhaps the least imaginative of this collection. Delicate in instrumental work, “Good Song” is a meandering of sorts; lightweight in nature but seemingly without clear-cut purpose. An opposite of “Brothers and Sisters”; this funkdooby, jangly ode to drug themes is yet again a plunge into a more worldly musical sound – but is without that pop edge felt in “Moroccan Peoples…”.

If it weren’t enough that Blur visit musical revolution on their own, they bring in Norman Cook (the slimmest of Fatboys) to assist in some areas. Most notably the shiny, playful “Gene By Gene”. It’s tropical feel and playground-rhyme-like vocals are as sunny and delightful as it’s tapping cha-cha-cha-esque musical sound. Yes, it is super produced, but the certain good-natured naiveté that emanates from the track is refreshing.

‘Think Tank’ is not an easy listen – traces of “British” that so quantified their previous records are all but gone – replaced by a more international flavor. It is often lively and mysterious, like the single “Out of Time”, sometimes serene and yet at times it can be simply non-chalant about its musical experimentation. This is Blur’s finest and most troubled moment. Seemingly struggling with itself, forced to change and grow but trapped inside preconceptions and lofty expectations. But don’t be deceived by attempts to closely relate the progress of this record with their far more humble beginnings. ‘Think Tank’ is a vital step in this band’s growth and evolution.