Kid A will always be cited as the more important album, for it was the first one bearing Radiohead's stylistic shift to chilly electronics. And there can be only one first. But the overlooked jewel of Radiohead's '00s output was Amnesiac, Kid A's snakier, arcane cousin, which dropped only months before 9/11, and whose cryptic messages we digested during those anxious times.
"Pyramid Song" wafted out with Thom Yorke's eerie oooos, somehow eternal. Like sand. "Knives Out" belied its jazzy tempo, a sunken-faced rogue of a song beneath. The somber sighs of brass and chirruping clarinets of "Life in a Glasshouse" harked back to the 1930s, and its reference to lynching swung a pointer to Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" as a possible ancestor.
On the more technological side, "Like Spinning Plates" gasped, with Yorke's vocals threatening to splinter under strain. Going further, there was no voice at all in "Hunting Bears," two haunting passages of Jonny Greenwood's electric guitar. Played twice over a nodding synth and faded out. "I Might Be Wrong" lathed its synth drone while the blunted drum pops and rhythm guitar wriggled forward and snapped back, like limbs removed from a body but still psychically attached.
And of course there was the limited-edition packaging (which can also be seen on the album's cover): a frayed red hardcover book suggesting secrets it could not reveal.
Monday, January 31, 2011