Music

The Art of Falling Apart: 'Kid A' and 'Amnesiac' -- Separated at Birth

Art from Amnesiac

They were recorded at the same time. The songs came from the same creative place. Hell, they even share a song between them ("Morning Bell"). So why does Amnesiac seem to always be dwarfed by the shadow of Kid A in comparison?

If OK Computer was Sgt. Peppers, Kid A and Amnesiac was/were Radiohead's The White Album. The works are as wonderfully schizophrenic as the Beatles self-titled classic, and when compared to the art rock revelation of The Bends (arguably their Revolver) and the universal embrace of its follow-up, it shows the band getting down to the business of pleasing themselves, not the legions of dedicated fans. Of course, everyone knows by now that Kid A and Amnesiac were more or less written at the same time, came from the same creative space, and reflected the same deconstructionist musical approach band leader Thom Yorke was obsessing over. Yet instead of being one massive double album (Kid Amnesiac?), the group opted for two releases, timed eight months apart.

But oddly enough, these are really not two parts of a single whole. In fact, instead of being the Yang to Kid A's Yin, Amnesiac is more like Yin 2.0. Thom once described it this way: "In some weird way, I think Amnesiac gives another take on Kid A, a form of explanation." In fact, the frontman would go on to explain that the first album was an accurate reflection of how he felt post-OK Computer's massive success, and that the follow-up was a way of sticking you in the middle of the fray and feeling every angst driven moment. In other words, Kid A was the art of falling apart, while Amnesiac was verification that said determined downward spiral was very deep indeed.

It's important to remember the meteoric rise of this otherwise earnest pop rock combo. MTV embraced them early with the seminal track "Creep" (off of the excellent Pablo Honey). That was 1992. In England, their 1995 album The Bends would be hailed as a modern classic, earning accolades usually reserved for a certain quartet from Liverpool ... or Oasis. OK Computer was the real breakout, however, the kind of universally embraced "event" which took the band from alternative icons to stadium standard bearers. With "Karma Police", Radiohead crossed over in a way that few in the group could ever anticipate. They went from geek love to frat boy fixture, and the fear of how to follow it up overwhelmed Yorke.

But Kid A was more than just a response to the "fridge buzz" irritation of the ever-present media. Having been together since 1985 (in one form or another), it was a decade-plus in the making move toward embracing a more personal aesthetic. Yorke's fixation with electronica, backed his bandmates desire to break away from OK Computer's conceptual albatross, mandated a new approach. So did a severe case of writer's block, something that would see the group improvising in the studio, instead of prepping songs and perfecting them live. In many ways, the Beatles analogy continues to apply -- new inspirations, the recording process as creative experimentation, a "damn the torpedoes" mentality toward the fans -- all lead to the artistic about face.

Yet Kid A is every bit a love letter to the true enthusiast as it is a confusing sonic sideswipe. It's an invitation to come along on a particularly dark and disturbing mystery tour, with the outcome unsure and perhaps unwanted. There is indeed enchantment in the music, but it's a delight dished out in cold keyboard blips. Almost by accident, the band delivered on the inherent promise predicted by OK Computer. Instead of avoiding the synthetic siren song of technology, the group dove head long into the digital. Compositions came out of simple programmed beats and clipped Casio riffs. Rhythm and the drone of dub lifted Yorke's often obscure lyrics to brave new world heights. If one simply accepts the album as a gift to giving into your whims, it still works. But if you read the words being sung/spoken the real purpose behind Kid A/Amnesiac becomes clear.

Fame was particularly harsh on Yorke. Already uncomfortable with his persona (you don't think "Creep"'s signature chorus was a lie, do you?) Kid A-mnesiac was a way of taking the blame back from society and its sick need for conformity and onto putting it on himself. A song like "Everything In Its Right Place" might argue for a sense of satisfaction, but the truth can be further unraveled in lyrics like "yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon" and "there are two colours in my head". Not the most comforting expression of supposed satisfaction. But Amnesiac pushes the borders even further, with its references to "black eyed angels" and sentiments like "if you'd been a dog / they would have drown you at birth". With accolades comes proposed happiness. Yorke is working out his own perplexed place in the cultural call out, ripping through Kid A's cruel dark side before finding any real attempted light via Amnesiac's "out of mind, out of sight" delusion.

Both albums are like brainwashing, insular symphonies to a painfully reactive public awareness. The music doesn't drive outward but, instead, falls inward, bouncing along the various fractured feelings of its singer and his mates. While "The National Anthem" may suggest that "everyone is so near/everyone has got the fear", the reality is that Yorke feels like a misidentified Pied Piper, the "rats and kids follow me out of town" tenets of the Kid A title track pleading his case to be set free. This could be the main reason why the reaction to its release was so incredibly strong. Newness and novelty can help, but there is more to it than a differing direction. Kid A sounds like the start of a surreal psychological dissertation. Amnesiac occasionally comes across as whining.

Indeed, the idea of being set free permeates the only track both albums share -- "Morning Bell". At the beginning, Yorke pleads "release me/release me." When his prayers aren't answered, he turns the tables on the listener, these last lines truly indicating his dilemma and discomfort:

"I wanted to tell you but you never listened

You never understand

I wanted to tell you but you never listened

You never understand

Cos I'm walking, walking, walking ...

The lights are on but nobody's home

Everybody wants to be a

The lights are on but nobody's home

Everybody wants to be a slave

Walking, walking, walking ...

The lights are on but nobody's at home

Everybody wants to be a

Everyone wants to be a friend

Nobody wants to be a slave

Walking, walking, walking ..."

Because of the varying approaches, musically, to the two interpretations of the song, it's easy to understand the mired mental changes going on. Kid A's take is more manic, unusual time signature and delayed cacophony symbolizing something much different that its eight months in the making counterpart. Amnesiac's interpretation is like a dirge, a funeral march wailing in the distance as the same sad voice lingers over its knotty nursery rhyming.

While Kid A is clearly more blatant in its beliefs (after all, tell tale tracks like "How to Disappear Completely" and "Optimistic" practically sledgehammer you with their intent), Amnesiac is more subtle. Had they been released together, two parts of the same sullen whole, their majesty would be hard to ignore. From the harsh, more hateful noises of the first half to the semi-return to pop song structure on something like "Knives Out", listeners could have free associated on the meanings for the next millennium. In fact, stuck together on an iPod shuffle with the inclusion of the few B-sides released from the sessions (Kid A had no singles, while Amnesiac complied with such commercial pressures), it's almost impossible to truly tell them apart.

This might explain the arguments and angst within the band over running sequence, song inclusion, and overall thematic tone. Yorke reportedly spent weeks working on the conjoined twins style separation of the sessions. The success of his efforts, especially when you consider how similar sounding the various pieces really are, stands in sharp contrast to the Beatles "all or nothing/all over the map" inclusiveness with The White Album. Imagine if the Fab Four had taken their double LP millstone and divided it into the "more experimental" and the "more mainstream". Then imagine they released the odder, more out of step stuff first. While critics were falling over themselves trying to find words to describe the genius vision of this version of the band, the label would be looking to the follow-up, finding the gold mine of potential hit singles outside of the trippy tape loops. That's what happened with Radiohead.

Clearly, Kid A's continued reputation as a masterwork of unbridled brilliance stems from such fascinating "firsties" idealism. When you realize that almost everything on Amnesiac came from the same time approximately, it shouldn't deaden its impact -- and yet, the eight month delay definitely does. People tend to view the latter LP as a reluctant return to form, arguing that "Knives Out" and "Dollars and Cents" are too "structured", too similar to sections of OK Computer to comfortably fit within Kid A's crackpot schemes. Worse, some suggest that Amnesiac is nothing more than a calculated copy of its companion's considered cool. For a band always reaching beyond their last set of songs, staying locked in the same experimental mode was verboten. Yet had they taken the route revisited by numerous bands -- R.E.M. with Monster, U2 with All That You Can't Leave Behind -- and crafted The Re-Bends, it's easy to envision an even greater backlash.

While many of the songs on the Beatles brilliant Magical Mystery Tour EP put the similarly styled material on Sgt. Pepper's to shame (as does the pre-release double single of "Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields Forever"), it's the double barreled delivery of something both unexpected and unrecognizable that catapulted the quartet's beloved concept cornerstone to mythic proportions. Kid A claims the same aesthetic space. You may prefer the piercing melancholy of Amnesiac's "Pyramid Song", or the lazy lounge act grace of missing material like "Worrywort" (a "Knives Out" B-side) or the metallic thrash of "Trans-Atlantic Drawl" (another outtake), but you are still suggesting something almost sacrilegious. Being the first one to enter through the door does have its perks. Kid A gets all the groupies. Amnesiac is constantly playing wallflower catch-up.

Oddly enough, it's the very celebrity that Yorke is rallying against that gave him this opportunity in the first place. Without question, music fans adore the whole "bite the hand that Billboard’s me" ideal, seeing it as the very essence of the rock and roll stance. But like another obvious Beatles allusion -- John Lennon's amazing Plastic Ono Band album -- Radiohead's desire to dismantle their sense of sonic entitlement and, instead, explore new pathways no matter how unusual is what now colors their standing remains a revelation. Had they simply churned about another series of anti-technology screeds, had they slipped into a mode of mere repetition, we'd be dismissing their later output as hackneyed. But thanks to the freedom that comes with fame, and the fears that tend to tag along, the band begat Kid A. Amnesiac is just as important to the conversation. Leaving it out is laughable. Without it, there is no link. Without it, there is no legacy.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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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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