Never Heard of 'Em
Radiohead's Kid A
Anna Minard claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we force her to listen to random records by artists considered to be important by music nerds.
I have a relationship to Radiohead that consists mainly of confusion and fear. I've heard of them, and I even went out and bought Pablo Honey when I was a teenager. I just didn't like it, and that was it. Then they became the Jesus of music and the world shitted itself every time they took another step, and it freaked me out. I never followed up—I used to avoid music that I thought I'd be embarrassed if I didn't understand. (I'm curing that impulse weekly now.)
When we started this column, I just assumed someone would eventually assign me Radiohead. Right?! But so far the contents have tended more toward old-school music learnin' and haven't caught up with the hip kids of the new millennium.
So I asked for it. Kid A was decreed, and I went home with determination (and some trepidation). It was a mostly silent sit-down couch listen; no running errands with headphones, no sorting laundry, no leaving the room for a minute. I listened to it like I was watching a movie, or waiting to be saved.
And honestly, I'm a little disappointed; buildup can do that to you. I totally see how people think this is brilliant. Sometimes it sounds like thoughts before they happen, or like the space between awake and asleep. Voices are slightly or majorly robot-ed; computers that sound like bells and drums that sound like tapping fingertips slip in and out. It's not boring. It just mostly sounds like a computer trying to teach itself how to cry. I like my feelings realer and bigger.
I really like "The National Anthem"; I'm a sap for songs constructed like that—repetitive undergirding, melodies layered over it, with some human voice sounds that at least approximate words flying on top. When it turns into jazzy improv horn farts and orchestrasplosion, I'm less on board, but I can stay on that bass backbone and it carries me through. Then the horns scream like elephants and I'm back in the fun zone!
My favorite part of listening to this was not feeling like an asshole just because I didn't love something other people love. I get so nervous about fucking up at music sometimes, I get sick to my stomach. I've spent so much time tongue-tied, or lying, or apologizing. But now I'm excited most of the time. And when I'm scared I'll say something embarrassing, I just take a deep breath and think of the people who send me crazy CDs in the mail or the last time I got a music reference I would've missed a year ago—like this week, at the Croc, when I sat under the picture of Andrew Wood and realized I knew who that was. I screamed a little bit.
I give this a "free to be you and me" out of 10.