Sunday, September 25, 2011


The American music critic Alex Ross begins a post on Radiohead with the following, amazingly pompous, statement:
The English composers Radiohead are having a brief residency in New York. 
C'mon Alex, they're a band, a rock band, that loosely remind me of Pink Floyd, and a rather dull one at that. I couldn't even listen to "Lotus Flower" all the way through. I have tried on several occasions to get into OK Computer as I keep hearing what a superlative album it is. But about the only cut that I enjoyed was "Fitter Happier".

Now it is entirely possible that I am as dull-witted as those early critics of the Beatles I was just trashing; after all, they sold 4.5 million copies of OK Computer. But I just find it dull, pretentious and annoying. Long-lasting unpleasant washes of electronic swirling is all I hear. Oh, and whiny politics, I hear that too...

Here's some Pink Floyd for comparison:

Both groups seem to specialize in making very little in the way of musical ideas seem like

...very little...

What do you think?


RG said...

CBC's "Q" thinks Radiohead is the greatest -- it is even used as a theme. So...

Bryan Townsend said...

Oh yes, Radiohead seem to be the band of the day, beloved by everyone. Which is why I'm so puzzled as I just don't hear anything interesting. Also, every song seems to be similar to the last song. If anyone can explicate what is so wonderful about Radiohead, just give a shout out!

Anonymous said...

Hi just came upon this post, and as a fellow classical guitarist, composer and Vancouverite, I thought I'd lend a hand in helping you get an ear for radiohead.

I think one of the major qualities that impress and wow us, is their approach to composition. It gives one the feeling that they are trying, and striving to apply the same principles, or search the same murky waters as many of our favorites of modern music (ie miles davis penderecki Part messiaen) and they do this in a way that seems to avoid the pretensions that many other rock bands displayed when trying to incorperate "art music" into their material. Infact, that may be one of the secrets, is that Radiohead is not trying to incorperate classical techniques, they simply are making music in the way that is natural and true to themselves.
As well, the orchestration/instrumentation is always captivating.
When you say every song seems to be simlar to the last, well with all due respect, this just displays that you have not listened to much at all, or given them a chance. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Listen to the the album "Kid A", and then listen to "In Rainbows" . What sounds the same here.
Listen to the wonderful use of compound meter in "Everything in it's right place" or "2+2+5". The orchestration and the melodic counter in the last verse of "Nude". Notice how he disrupts the lyrics mid sentence by an octave drop and begins acending again.

Listen to the 3 part vocal counterpoint in the "rain down..." section of Paranoid Android. I teach music in high school. Try getting teenagers to understand the beauty of counter point through a Bach invention. Any luck? Now try and help them understand it through Radiohead.

Give them another try. I promise you'll be happy you did. Or check out the guitarist (jonny greenwood's) film scores. Beautiful one is for the japanese movie "Norwegian Wood."


Bryan Townsend said...

Anonymous, one of the most surprising delights of doing this blog is the wonderfully informative and courteous comments! So much of the time the blogosphere seems to resemble the Battle of the Somme. But your comment is just the kind of thing I was hoping for. I have tried a number of times to "get into" Radiohead (without success) and you have given me some places to start. I will follow your suggestions and report back.

And thanks!

Anonymous said...

hey Bryan, glad I was able to post something helpful. I hope I didn't sound in anyway pushy or anything. Of course if you don't like Radiohead because you simply don't like the sound and it dosen't resonate emotionally with you, that, of course, is the way things go.
But I really think they are doing something very special in music right now.
I am of course a dedicated diehard fan, but I've used them so much in compositional classes with great effect, as did my professors when I was doing my masters, that it's hard to dismiss the notion that they are living on a very special plot of musical realestate.
They use 5 bar phrases all the time! In pop music unheard of haha.

here is "nude"
(not the best version for sound quality)

listen to the way he starts the melody with the word "don't" on the b6 of the minor chord. With the tension! I find that punishingly beautiful. And it's not by accident. It resolves to the 5, but not with out introducing the dissonance that will stay in your ears for the rest of the piece and reflect the distress and defience of the text. They know what they are doing, and how to do it efficiently. I admire that. As well they effortlessly make a chromatic mediant modulation at the end of the song that is gorgeous. Like I said I'm a fan. But in the meantime I'm going to listen to a violin partita by Gidon Kremer.

(and it wasn't an octave drop like I mentioned before but a minor 6th drop. how interesting)

Bryan Townsend said...

I've been too busy to follow up as of yet, but I really do appreciate the suggestions. If you can help me find an entry point or a window into what Radiohead are doing, then that would be great. I haven't found one on my own. My musical views and understanding are not fixed and are evolving constantly.

These kind of specific suggestions are great! After all, a lot of what I try to do on this blog is help people get into all sorts of different repertoire from 13th century hockets to Shostakovich quartets.

Probably, after I have had time to investigate, I will do a new post on Radiohead...