Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2009

Varying Thoughts on Radiohead's Kid A

By Evan Rytlewski
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Today Pitchfork ran a thoughtful but dubious analysis of Radiohead's Kid A that argued, artfully but rather arbitrarily, the CD was "the last of its kind."

Kid A turned out not be the music of the future, but a relic of the past, more in line with dinosaurs like Dark Side of the Moon or Loveless as try-out-your-new-speakers, listen-with-the-lights-off suites. By the time Amnesiac officially arrived, it had been served up piecemeal on the internet, handicapping the final product from reproducing its predecessor's cohesive structure. From then on, albums have persisted, sure, but they're increasingly marginalized or stripped for parts-- release Kid A today, and many might choose to save or stream "Idioteque" and Recycle-Bin the rest, missing the contextual build and release that makes the album's demented-disco centerpiece all the more effective.

The argument doesn't quite hold water. Tell me again why is Radiohead's Kid A the last album as opposed to, say, The Microphones' Glow, Pt. 2 or Arcade Fire's Funeral? And didn't CD sales continue to boom for years after Kid A? And aren't there, even now, more listen-to-them-from-start-to-finish concept albums than ever before?

It's an especially far-reaching argument to make considering that, in so many more important ways, Kid A was the first of its kind. It was the album that changed everything, the album that shattered a taboo so deep-rooted we weren't even aware it had been a taboo: It turns out it had been unthinkable for a rock band to make an experimental, electronic album. It's easy to forget now, but the initial press around the album was so sensational critics suggested it had been recorded by aliens and robots.

With its ambient tones, glitches and backward loops, Kid A defined music for the first half of this decade, paving the way for weird, ambitious opuses by Wilco, The Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse, Unwound, The Notwist and The Books, and no doubt priming today's indie audiences for Animal Collective. To get a sense of how deep-rooted Kid A's tropes became, by the second half of the decade it was considered surprising when Wilco released an album that didn't sound like it, too, had been recorded by aliens and robots.

As we'll hear time and time again in the coming months as magazines continue their best of the decade wrap-ups, Radiohead's Kid A was the most important record of its time. It's a record that just didn't destory a taboo, it destroyed taboos altogether. After the shock and awe of Kid A, bands could attempt just about anything they wanted, and listeners would accept it, unblinking, at face value.


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