For a Minute There, I Lost Myself
I’m not big on celebrating my birthday (or even remembering others’) but my most vivid birthday memory was when I turned 18. My uncle, a huge music nerd who’d played bass in a legitimate touring band, gave me burned copies of every Coldplay album released until that point with a card that said, “You’re technically an adult now so you should be listening to adult music.” “Adult” me laughed – but was pleasantly impressed with what I’d heard on the CDs. At the emo scene’s peak, the mellow, atmospheric tracks on X&Y were a refreshing departure from the crushing breakdowns and shrieking vocals of everything else I’d been listening to at the time. With such minimal and relaxed sounds, I was able to take in every sound, appreciate every note and the weight it gave to the overall song.
However, I was quickly bored with those sounds. It was no fault of my uncle’s for trying to pass along a more mature sound and I can still appreciate Coldplay’s music – I just wanted something more. And while searching for more creative “adult” indie music, the band that loomed over all others was Radiohead. It was 2008 and I’d remembered hearing about a band a year earlier who’d released an album at a pay-what-you-want price, which shook the entire industry, so I gave that album a listen.
And was blown away.
In Rainbows was everything I liked about X&Y but pushed even further. The sparse beats and ambience are unsettling and disturbing instead of relaxing; the guitars are foreboding instead of hopeful and the lyrics take certain themes and visuals and twist them into something unique and unnatural. Instead of being “swallowed in the sea”, we’re now being “eaten by the worms and weird fishes”. The album is full of strange and uncomfortable imagery – houses of cards falling down, animals trapped in hot cars, bodysnatchers, 15 steps to sheer drops – but ends in a positive note, as many tracks on X&Y do. In the last track, Videotape, vocalist Thom Yorke is at the “pearly gates” and muses, “no matter what happens now, I shouldn’t be afraid because today has been the most perfect day I’ve ever seen”.
After listening to In Rainbows on repeat for weeks, I had to dive into the rest of Radiohead’s discography. Every album has its own distinct sound and the progression the band’s made through their career has been incredible – from the radio-rock sounds of Pablo Honey and The Bends (which Coldplay cites as hugely inspirational) to the icy electronic soundscapes of Kid A. I could spend articles upon articles writing about Radiohead (and maybe I will) but for now I’ll just share some of my favourite tracks and what I love about them.
Karma Police may be the most played track on Ok Computer and Radiohead’s most popular song (besides Creep) but it’s the lyrics in this song that do it for me, mainly in the second half. The line “phew, for a minute there, I lost myself” perfectly sums up my Radiohead experience. I could say that line after listening to any of their albums – the music takes me somewhere away from myself, transports me to a different mindset, almost like forced dissociation.
Speaking of dissociating, this song is absolutely chilling. With the title and lyrics like, “That there, that’s not me” and “I’m not here, this isn’t happening”, you can feel the out-of-body trauma (or escapism?) Thom Yorke is experiencing.
If the last track was sparse and atmospheric, this track is deranged and chaotic. With wailing guitars, thrumming percussion and electronic flourishes, this song perfectly incapsulates a feeling of unease about politics and society. The George Orwell reference in the title and lyrics add to that: “January has April showers / And two and two always makes a five / It’s the devil’s way now / There is no way out / You can scream and you can shout / It is too late now”.
Radiohead excels at creating atmospheres with their music. Daydreaming creates a similar one to How to Disappear Completely but even more depressing, if possible. The repetitive piano and abrupt strings are chilling, and the listener can’t help but feel the same hopelessness Thom Yorke is. In the song’s outro, his edited vocals are played backwards saying, “Half of my life” – referencing the divorce he went through during the writing of the album of his wife who he’d been with for half his life.
For all the other songs I couldn’t fit in this post, check out this playlist of Radiohead tracks I put together: