A JOURNEY THROUGH KID A
The year is 2000. You’ve survived Y2K and the first year of George W. Bush’s presidency (but you’re still wondering about the recount in Florida). As wild as the new millenium has turned out, you’re in luck: the highly anticipated Radiohead album is about to drop into your life. You pop into a Tower Records, a place where they sell physical copies of music, and purchase the album for ten dollars cash. You tear off the plastic cover and your mind starts to wander about the musical journey Radiohead has taken you on in the past. Their grungey Pablo Honey beginnings and melody driven OK Computer geniusness has you excited. You know what you get with Radiohead and as you press play on your CD player you realize…you’re not really sure what you have anymore.
That’s what I imagine the listening experience began with and 17 years later, I more or less felt the same thing. The album’s opener, Everything in It’s Right Place, is an other-worldly, synth heavy record where lead vocalist Thom Yorke shines through. No guitar. No conventional percussion. It is truly a WTF experience if you’re expecting OK Computer part 2. The title track follows suit with a lullaby type melody that will remind you of the star studded ceiling you had as a kid. There is something extremely child-like about this song, and not in a bad way. It feels nostalgic yet absolutely new at the same time. This is also a moment within the album where you realize the marriage between the vocals and production. It’s as if the two can’t be separated under any circumstance. Yorke’s voice is equally as important as any other instrument on the song, no more no less.
The lyrics on the entire project are open ended. Apparently, the band took fragments of written lines and picked them out of a hat to arrange them like a collage. These are the innovative ideas that free the album from containing any true meaning. That’s what art is about right? Interpretation. Kid A challenges you to interpret the music without conforming to a universal conclusion and therein lies the beauty: forget what you thought music is supposed to sound like. It’s most evident when the band unites multiple styles at once to create a new sound. For example, The National Anthem is a chaotic mix between the structure of rock and the improvisation of jazz, a gritty bass line plays throughout while intermittent horns float behind. Meanwhile, Yorke’s distorted voice makes a return and although it all feels misplaced, SOMEHOW it works. Idioteque is another song that will leave first time listeners dumbfounded. As a huge hip-hop fan, this song spoke to me the most and to be quite honest, I’m not sure why. The uptempo drum programming and involuntary head bobbing plays a role, all while Yorke is chanting apocalyptic messages in your ear: Ice age coming, Ice age coming. The beauty of this record is the product of a Paul Lansky sample, a 1970s computer-music composer. Sampling has been a fundamental part of hip-hop production, but only moderately used in other genres. This weird and obscure sample is used as a canvas to deliver one of the most unique, indescribable songs of the 2000s.
There’s a reason why this album is listed on every “Greatest Albums of All Time” list. There’s a reason why it sold a million records and performed well commercially. In a time where music was promoted on MTV through videos, Radiohead took a risk. After creating some of the best pop-rock records of the 90s they went back into the lab and created an album free of genre. Not every artist or band is capable of pushing the musical envelope and expanding the catalog. Music today has become dominated by easy-listening and quickly digestible content. This is not that record. This is the album you sit with. This is the album you revisit later because you really didn’t understand it the first time. This is the album you drive to at night. This is the album that I promise you may not love, but you will respect.