Music

Between the Grooves of Radiohead's 'Kid A'

Ten writers tackle each track on Radiohead's Kid A (yes, even the bonus blip at the end), and we soon discover how, truly, everything is in its right place ...

#1 "Everything in Its Right Place"

I still remember where I was when I first listened to Kid A.

There aren't many albums I can say that about, but most of us at least remember how ridiculously anticipated the album was as the follow-up to OK Computer. Sure, that sense of anticipation is at least part of why I vividly remember putting the disc on in my car stereo as I left the parking lot of Port Huron, Michigan's only mall. No, the reason the memory is so vivid is nearly entirely because of "Everything in its Right Place". The song opens the album with warm electric piano chords and subtle bass, glitchy vocal sound effects, and a soft kick drum beat before Thom Yorke's falsetto slides in on top of the mix. I fell in love with it instantly.

Kid A was an album that featured all sorts of rumors in the hype leading up to its release. But it hit before the internet really became a force in the music world (no leaks, unlike the follow-up Amnesiac). And with the band doing no promotion, including no lead single, nobody knew quite what to expect. We knew Radiohead was going in a more electronic direction, and that it would probably be challenging and weird. Kid A proved to be both of those things, but by putting "Everything in its Right Place" first on the disc, the band let us know that they hadn't abandoned melody and songwriting in their quest to expand their musical horizons.

Still, the song effectively teases what is to come on the rest of the album. Those glitchy vocal effects pop in, under, and between the rest of the music in the track. There is a lot of atmospheric, electronically manipulated strangeness zipping around the margins of "Everything in its Right Place", and it finally begins to engulf Yorke's lead vocal as the song fades out in its final 40 seconds. It's key that the disintegration doesn't happen until the end, though, because what you remember about the song is its melodic elements.

Kid A has developed the reputation of being a cold, dispassionate album, but the opening track is full of warmth and emotion. Yorke sounds stressed-out, singing about "sucking a lemon" and not quite hearing "what was that you tried to say", but placed in the context of the song's low-key musical bedrock, he feels a lot less stressed than he sounds. The elements in the album's first song come together perfectly, both as a composition and as a table-setter for the rest of the disc. "Everything in its Right Place" lives up to its name.

Chris Conaton

 

#2 "Kid A"

While many hail Kid A as an out-and-out masterpiece, there are still some people that just never jumped onto that same bandwagon, calling the album dark, alienating, and sometimes even too "out there". It's argued that there is no beating heart at the center of this digital beast, but, to those people, I simply offer up the title track: the calmest, catchiest, and warmest song to be found here, like a cabin on the top of a snow-covered hill at night with a fireplace roaring inside -- that just so happens to be occupied by a robot who slurs his words way too much.

With its bumpy little backbeat, pseudo music box twinkles, and warm synth pads, "Kid A" is almost embryonic in tone, creating a comfortable little aural nest for Thom Yorke's damaged, distorted voice to rest in. Upon first listen, it's nearly impossible to discern what the hell he's saying, although fragments come through: "I slipped on a little white lie" is telling, as is the biting puzzler "we got heads on sticks / and you've got ventriloquists". Yorke has said in interviews that he hid his voice in this song specifically because some of the lyrics were too "brutal and horrible" to sing as is -- the distortion made it easier for him to attain a sort of psychic distance from the material. It could also be argued that if this really is the first waking moments of that proverbial human clone, then he's already got some rather pointed things to say, as if the product of absolute artificiality can somehow instantly see through our own artifices and facades, without even trying. Perhaps he will lead the rats and children out of our homes after all ...

What "Kid A" does in the grand scheme of things, however, is of far greater importance. Immediately following the numerous looped voice samples that help close out "Everything in Its Right Place", the song "Kid A" takes us one step further by establishing the voice as instrument, not a mere conveyor of words and emotions. The band was already "bored" of guitars at this point, and Yorke -- being Yorke -- loved the idea of having his voice be decentralized to a certain extent. Suddenly having his vocals be electronically mangled didn't just seem like a cool idea anymore: it seemed like the only option. Then, by placing such a unique song as the second track of the album, it effectively disarmed listeners from any and all expectations that they had going forward. After hearing both "Everything" and "Kid A", suddenly the rest of the disc -- its out-and-out techno beats, its avant-garde jazz horns, it's faux-Disney conclusion -- seemed to be a bit more within aesthetic reach. Once all your expectations are shattered, suddenly the alien becomes a bit more familiar, and all the more pleasing in the long run.

Yet "Kid A's" most remarkable aspect is its simplest: the fact that it lifts. Once the voice and bass drop out at 2:53, we are left with mere digital squiggles and the quiet thumping of drums (about to break out into "Sing, Sing, Sing, Pt. 1 & 2" at any second), which soon get lifted up by soaring synth wings to achieve something that borders on hopeful, joyous even. It's a rare moment of out-and-out musical optimism for the band, and it contains an energy that doesn't appear anywhere else on the disc. It's a unique, powerful moment that conquers us with its unassuming beauty. "Watch it" the distorted voice tells us at the end of the track, not realizing that such a demand is futile, for we've been watching the whole time, our jaws agape in amazement.

Evan Sawdey

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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