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Indie Rock

Radiohead – Airbag/How Am I Driving?

The Airbag/How A I Driving EP, released by Radiohead towards the end of the promotional campaign for OK Computer, featured not only some amazing b-sides from the OK Computer era, but also some of the most unique & compelling artwork of any CD I’ve ever bought.

There are all sorts of prescient seeming phrases in the artwork which make me think of 2020. Especially the disclaimers on the “survey” which explain what will happen to the data you give. These feel like an explicit reference to what we now call Big Data which Radiohead, in 1997-8, could already see creeping into our lives. In many ways the artwork of this EP could be considered a satirical masterpiece of Capitalist Realism, which resonates strongly today, in the chaotic atmosphere of late capitalism.

The point of this post is to show you the incredible artwork. Unfortunately, my copy has spent about twenty years in a smoking house & has become yellowed with age, losing its brilliant white colour. I am a little disappointed by this but luckily I was able to find excellent pictures of the packaging on Discogs.

My smoke-yellowed & dog-eared copy.

How it’s supposed to look.

The cartoon on the left is a little blurry & indistinct on the Discogs pic so here’s a close up taken from my old copy:

Pictures courtesy of Discogs

Airbag was never commercially released as a single, & as such never had a promo video produced, so here’s a great live version of it from the UK TV show Later With Jools Holland. As an aside: I’m sure I remember reading, possibly in an interview around the tie of release, that all of the songs on OK Computer were going to have videos made for them. Obviously this never happened but would have been amazing.

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Categories
Electronic Music Indie Rock Music Song of the Day

Song of the Day (A-Z): Radiohead – Idioteque

Day 9 (I) & we’ve finally hit a vein of pure Radiohead. After the success of OK Computer in the late ’90’s, the music industry had high hopes & expectations for Radiohead’s follow up. Radiohead however, made one of (if not the) most dramatic left turns in music history. During the touring & aftermath of OK Computer, Thom Yorke & the boys had been listening to a lot of the electronic music which was starting to really gain momentum at that point. We’re talking Aphex Twin, Autechre, Boards of Canada & Squarepusher to name a few.

Thom Yorke & Johnny Greenwood twiddling knobs & patching parameters, 2014

Radiohead took these new influences on board wholeheartedly, and emerged from the studio with Kid A, an album of experimental electronic music incorporating all of these influences. Despite the “moral panic” & hate from so-called “hardcore fans” over this change of direction, Kid A isn’t quite the departure it seems at first listen. Scratch the surface and you still find all the elements which made Radiohead great in the first place.

Idioteque, despite initial indifference, has in later years taken it’s place in the Radiohead catalogue as a firm favourite for me. This BBC performance (which serves as the “official” video) gives an excellent insight into how Radiohead would play these experimental songs live to the same high standard as their more rock-based material.

Who’s in a bunker?
Who’s in a bunker?
Women and children first
And the children first
And the children

I’ll laugh until my head comes off
I’ll swallow till I burst
Until I burst
Until I

Who’s in a bunker?
Who’s in a bunker?
I have seen too much
I haven’t seen enough
You haven’t seen it

I’ll laugh until my head comes off
Women and children first
And children first
And children

Here I’m alive
Everything all of the time
Here I’m alive
Everything all of the time

Ice age coming
Ice age coming
Let me hear both sides
Let me hear both sides
Let me hear both

Ice age coming
Ice age coming
Throw it in the fire
Throw it in the fire
Throw it on the

We’re not scaremongering
This is really happening
Happening
We’re not scaremongering
This is really happening
Happening

Mobiles squerking
Mobiles chirping
Take the money run
Take the money run
Take the money

Here I’m alive
Everything all of the time
Here I’m alive
Everything all of the time

Here I’m alive
Everything all of the time
Here I’m alive
Everything all of the time

The first of the children [Repeat until fade]

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Categories
Facebook Challenges Music

10 days/10 albums Facebook challenge

Over on Facebook, a lot of people have been doing a thing where every day for 10 days you post the cover of an album which ‘greatly influenced’ your taste in music. On the Facebook posts, you’re only supposed to post the cover with no explanations or reviews etc. I decided to compile my ten into this blogpost with a little explanation/review of each one.

Day 1: Radiohead – Ok Computer

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Widely cited as one of the greatest albums of the 1990’s, if not all time, OK Computer catapulted Radiohead into The Big Leagues and topped most year-end lists in 1997. Since then it has also topped countless ‘greatest albums’ lists. Before OK Computer was released, I was happily listening to Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene. These were my favourite bands. When I first heard Paranoid Android, lead single from OK Computer, I was blown away. Music could be weird. Music could be creative. Music didn’t have to be boring four-chord, verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus dadrock like Oasis. Guitars, while key to the sound, didn’t have to be the only instrument. Effects were used creatively and experimentally, like the Roland Space Echo on Subterranean Homesick Alien. Live drumming was cut up and rearranged in the studio – inspired by DJ Shadow’s seminal Endtroducing – like on opening space dub rocker Airbag. This opened up worlds of possibility for me. I began seeking out weird and experimental music as a habit. A habit which I retain to this day. And I’ve not really listened to Oasis since.

Day 2: Pavement – Brighten the Corners

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Pavement’s 1997 album Brighten the Corners is not generally considered to be one of their best records. But to me it was the first time I heard what would go on to be one of my favourite bands. I heard Shady Lane a lot on Steve Lamacq’s Evening Session on Radio 1 and John Peel. What attracted me to Pavement was the laid back, stoned vibes of the songs, the gentle effortlessness of the playing (which isn’t nearly as effortless as it first sounds) and the unusual, quirky lyrics – which 14-year-old me didn’t really understand but loved anyway. It’s definitely not my favourite Pavement album, but as the first I heard, it will always hold a special place in my musical tastes.

Day 3: Autechre – Tri Repetae

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The first electronic music album in my list and the first one that truly excited me about the possibilities of electronic music and made me want to produce it myself. The cold, sparse arrangements and the intricate glitches were what initially drew me in, but the warm bass and the solid drum programming and production are what made me stay. Closing track Rsdio is one of my favourite tracks of all time. A 9-minute slow build-up of various repetitive elements which form together into a glorious glitchy groove embedded in an echoey, desolate soundscape. My first copy of Tri Repetae was actually a CD-R which a friend burned for me. After the album ended, he’d added the generative glitchy mess that is Gantz Graf. This noisy electronic classic led me towards weirder, glitchier and more abrasive electronic music.

Day 4: Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump

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I could, and indeed will, write a lot more about this album than I have space for here. It’s a legitimate masterpiece, in my opinion. Jason Lytle is a ridiculously talented songwriter and the way he blends traditional rock instruments with bleeping atmospheric synths and drum machines is just so unique. And then to use this technique to tell a story about civilisation collapsing due to the Y2K millennium bug (a hot topic at the time) with a sad and beautiful subplot about an artificially intelligent humanoid robot named Jed who writes depressing poetry then drinks himself to death. I cannot recommend this album enough.

Day 5: Belle and Sebastian – The Boy with the Arab Strap

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This is another one that caught me by surprise. I’d read reviews of their music in NME and Melody Maker but thought that they didn’t sound like something I’d enjoy. I saw this album on a listening post (remember them?) in my local Virgin Megastore (remember them?) and gave it a go. The opening of the first track It Could have been a Brilliant Career absolutely hooked me. The melancholic vocal with the lush melody and the cleverly funny lyrics was so good: “He had a stroke at the age of 24, it could have been a brilliant career”. And the songs just kept getting better. This was the birth of my love for what is often described as twee pop, or just twee.

Day 6: At The Drive-In – Relationship of Command

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A definite change of pace here. After the melodic pop sensibilities of Grandaddy and Belle and Sebastian, I had to pick something a bit noisier. Aggro. Relationship of Command is a Post-Hardcore touchstone. The only album more important in the genre is probably Fugazi’s politically and ethically charged Repeater and that is high praise indeed. Relationship of Command is a savage burst of metallic punk noise and swooning melancholic melodies. It even features a cheeky cameo from the godfather of punk himself, Iggy Pop, on Rolodex Propaganda. Lead single One Armed Scissor blew everyone away and for me at least, killed off Nu Metal. Dead.

Day 7: Boards of Canada – Music has the Right to Children

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Music has the Right to Children is a particularly special album. It’s universally recognised as a classic album in pretty much every single music-based Facebook group I’m a member of. It’s loved by hipsters, indie kids, hip hop fans, shoegazers, IDM fans and many more. Your grandparents have probably heard Board of Canada. As well as it’s lush arrangements and top-drawer production, it also introduced me to another concept which I have developed a slight obsession with, Hauntology. I will write a primer to hauntology at some point in the near future, so if you’re not familiar with what it is, don’t worry. Boards of Canada introduced, alongside Mogwai, introduced me to the idea of soundscapes. A common feature in many of my favourite bands.

Day 8: Beastie Boys – Hello Nasty

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My introduction to the Beastie Boys was probably hearing Sabotage and/or Fight for your Right to Party on commercial radio or MTV. I liked them but I didn’t know any of their other music. This was also in the mid ‘90’s before you could investigate a band on Spotify or YouTube if you liked them and my primary source of income was a paper round. When you get paid £12 a week, you need to be damn sure you like the album you’re buying before you buy it. By the time the video for Hello Nasty’s lead single Intergalactic was released, I was already reading NME & Melody Maker regularly as well as watching MTV2 (MTV’s “alternative” offshoot channel) and listening to Radio One’s Evening Session (Steve Lamacq), John Peel’s show and Mary Anne Hobbes’ Breezeblock show. All of these outlets played Intergalactic constantly and I was even able to afford to buy the occasional single. I remember purchasing it on cassette and the B-Side was the wonderful Hail Sagan. As an album I believe it’s the Beastie Boys best kept secret. It’s probably my favourite of their albums (except for maybe Ill Communication) and contains some of their strongest singles. Intergalactic (obviously), Remote Control, Body Movin’, and the sublime Three MC’s And One DJ. A true late ‘90’s heavyweight.

Day 9: Beck – Odelay

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If you boiled the entire ‘90’s in a still then the end result, the distillate, would be Odelay. Beck’s magnum opus is a sprawling sound collage of pop, folk, country, hip-hop, alternative rock, grunge, breakbeat and almost any other genre which you care to think of. Produced by the Dust Brothers, its heavy use of sampling is revolutionary. Especially in the context of an “indie/alternative artist” like Beck. As well as its status as a solid album, Odelay spawned some of the most memorable singles of the ‘90’s; the laidback, line dancing hip-hop funk of Where It’s At; the crunchy post-grunge of Devils Haircut; the mutant lounge pop of The New Pollution and the melancholic psychedelia of Jackass. For a young person today, approaching indie and alternative music for the first time, Odelay is a fantastic primer and could theoretically send you out in any number of directions for further musical explorations.

Day 10: Sonic Youth – Screaming Fields of Sonic Love

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When I first discovered that the central library in my city had a CD and Tape section I felt like a child at Christmas. I took out so many CD’s and copied them to cassette that it would be very hard to argue I didn’t massively abuse the system. The album I remember lending from the library and copying to tape the most is this fantastic Sonic Youth “best of” compilation, Screaming Fields of Sonic Love. This is a collection of tracks from Sonic Youth’s ‘80’s output – up to their masterpiece, Daydream Nation – but it’s sequenced in reverse chronological order. This has the amusing effect of the songs becoming more lo-fi as the album progresses. The album begins with perhaps their most melodic song, Teen Age Riot, and towards the end you find their noisier, no-wave inspired material like Inhuman, Making The Nature Scene and Brother James. I don’t know why it works so well, but it does. And I’ve been hooked on Sonic Youth ever since. This is probably the biggest influence on me in this list except for OK Computer. Sonic Youth gently nudged my attention away from British artists like Radiohead and towards American artists like Nirvana, Pavement, Pixies and Silver Jews. Even the British bands I got into after this were heavily indebted to Sonic Youth for their sound, bands like Idlewild and Urusei Yatsura.

All record cover images in this blogpost courtesy of Discogs

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