Ten years of Kid A
Kid A turns ten
Kid A was released ten years ago this month. You will find below 22 short pieces of writing about or inspired by Radiohead’s landmark fourth album. The ten tracks comprising Kid A are peppered throughout, culminating with the music video for the album’s final track, “Motion Picture Soundtrack.” The full experience of listening Kid A actually includes two and half full minutes of silence — at the close of “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” a full-minute of silence culminates in a gorgeous meteor shower-crescendo; this is followed by a further 90 seconds of silence, creating a lovely effect when the album is listened to on repeat. We have included each separate track throughout so that you may listen as you read. For more artwork and video, click here. Otherwise: listen, read, enjoy. Ice age coming.
Featuring writing by: Julie Ann, Stan Apps, Joe Bueter, Jackie Clark, Brooklyn Copeland, John Deming, Brent Goodman, John Harkey, Jeff T. Johnson, Peter Bogart Johnson, Steven Karl, Amy Lawless, Masin Persina, Michael Schiavo, Christopher Snyder, Matt Soucy, Justin Taylor, Adam Trull, Ken L. Walker, Alice White, Melinda Kaye Wilson, Jim Wood
[Everything In Its Right Place]
Kid A as contract
What was it he said? “We have heads on sticks, and you have ventriloquists.” Our assets are different, but our interests are convergent. Some sort of bargain seems imminent. What form may that bargain take?
One possibility is partnership, an LLC to profit from production of allegory. For the allegorical process, the floating heads and disembodied voices must perform concurrently, on cue, for an indefinite period: cooperation best established by pooling assets under independent new authority.
Or it could be a supply contract. Head-owners could pay cash for rights to ventriloquists. It must be ventriloquist-suppliers who sell, because where gains from trade take the form of symbolic knowledge production, those with most need for justification have the greatest capacity to profit.
Those with heads-on-sticks need soothing stories.
I was exploring the south of France right around the time when this album took off, and I remember seeing the graphics in the record stores. Part of my travels always includes collecting the rare-in-my-country recordings, and communing with music lovers from not-my-country in record shops (How to Disappear Completely). A Radiohead fan from Pablo Honey days, I was blown away by their presence. I bought a small poster with French fine print, and display it when the colours are where they should be (Everything in Its Right Place). Four years later, my husband used Idioteque as background music to one of several postmodern pastiches of images and videos from our European travel. It turned out scarily amazing. The way he focused such dramatic attention on me makes me totally understand but also turn from the “release me” of Morning Bell. Radiohead knows how to make melancholia utterly wretch from your heart and gut, and to make it ok, a bit, because the music is so sublimely lovely. Which makes it cool. I think I’m crazy, maybe… but I’m doing good enough (Optimistic). (Yikes!)
Kid A on the Bus
I visited England for two weeks right after Kid A was released. My friend burned me a copy for the trip. It was his copyright-approved backup copy—I swear. I think he warned me about the album in that way enthusiastic music fans do when they pass along something unbelievably new. I found myself listening to Kid A at night on these giant charter buses that took me to tourist destinations and the school I was an exchange student at. The buses had huge picture windows that provided wide views of Buckingham Palace and Ely Cathedral, although I don’t remember seeing those landmarks from the bus.
I remember dozing until the fractured horns of “National Anthem” woke me to some muddled sky over the country. Once it was an orange-colored storm turning over the sky across a field. Once it was Guy Fawkes Day and several distant towns were shooting fireworks into the clouds. By the time “In Limbo” started, my eyes fell from half-opened to closed, only to be jacked open again by “Idioteque.” Somehow the album made me feel calm, strange and solitary, but powerfully immune to the shadows of those emotions. It was like being a low-ranking god out on a budget tour of earth for a report no one would read, but feeling good to be out of the office and noticing large, beautiful scenes.
Everything in its right place and you sucking a lemon. Everything in its right place, and there you are, sucking a stupid lemon, they say. You understand everything beginning with a tentative rift. Everything always beginning with the same few notes, the same repetition. A static foundation given the status of home, distorted, then amplified. You woke up yesterday sucking a lemon and everything else was just right. You were wrong. You woke up and tried to say something but everything was in its right place. You gave yourself a name, a song, you introduced ambiance and echoed your plea. You scrambled your soliloquy and confused guitar wails for baby cries. There are two colors. You know there are two colors. But those that are not you define the collective artifice. They project onto others, they speak unto others, offer friendship through affliction. They put everything is in its right place, escalating toward the very top, the very last breath, but you will always understand the part of the whole, the full-throttle synecdoche of sour.
I first heard Kid A as an exchange student in Finland. I was 16 years old. I’d spent the two years prior obsessively collecting every piece of Radiohead (albums, EPs, singles) I could find. When I heard a new album was in the works, I was really, really hoping this one song I’d heard in the Meeting People is Easy documentary (which I’d recorded from MTV on a VHS tape and kept until a friend of mine gave it to an older guy she’d wanted to impress) would make the track list. I believe the song was called Follow Me Around. Obviously, it did not appear on Kid A. Kid A was the first thing I ever ordered from Amazon. It arrived well after the release date. Having ignored the online reviews and the buzz on the only real Radiohead website (greenplastic.com), I played the album immediately after school the day it came in the mail. My host sister, Ida, was doing homework at the dining room table. I was in the living room on the couch. I listened all the way through. I asked Ida what she thought. She tried to be kind. “It sounds like background music,” she said. I agreed. I still do. I was one of those annoying people who resented Kid A for not sounding like OK Computer. And I’ve been annoyed with Radiohead ever since. A year later, when I got back to Indiana, I traded in my entire Radiohead collection for Rolling Stones albums.
Just before Kid A was released, some music channel broadcasted an image of a phonograph and played the whole album. In between each track, the record player was replaced by one of Radiohead’s now famous ‘bear’ faces:
At the time, I was reading Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s post-apocalyptic tale “The Portable Phonograph” for a critical analysis class. The story is about a man who has invited other men over to his shelter. They listen to music and have conversation. The man explains that when he realized “what was happening” — the apocalypse — he told himself, “It is the end. I cannot take much; I will take these.” “These” are classic books, as well as his records and portable phonograph. Much of the story is devoted to descriptions of an empty, frozen, bomb-scarred landscape.
In a landscape constructed entirely of silence and desolation, any sound has tremendous gravity: Was that wind? Or a bird? Or some signal transmitted from another living human? The thickness of sound in Kid A evokes the expanse, terror and beauty of that world, among others. It is filled by its own emptiness; it twitches with death and with life insisting on itself. Brooklyn Copeland’s comment that Kid A is “background music” is apt. It is atmospheric, and mood-inducing, and for me, the only record that enhances the experience of writing rather than distracting from it.
But this is only one of Kid A‘s applications. It significantly rewards focused, active listening. You can press your ear against it and hear blips and transmissions. Buried syncopation. Sounds are timed, flipped, remade. The songwriters specialize in nuance, momentum, subtlety and repetition. Johnny Greenwood’s string arrangements in “How to Disappear Completely” swell and absorb; Colin Greenwood’s bassline in “The National Anthem” punishes as horns flail like slaughtered innocents. Fragmented, associative, representative lyrics hint that saying anything is saying too much. Still, there are quotable moments in every song:
* yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon
* we’ve got heads on sticks / you’ve got ventriloquists
* everyone has got the fear / it’s holding on
* in a little while I’ll be gone
* this one just came out of the swamp
* I’m lost at sea / don’t bother me
* here I’m alive /everything all of the time / ice age coming
* cut the kids in half
* I think you’re crazy
Kid A can be an intensely solitary experience and the quintessential example of music that opens itself up with repeated listens. It ends on “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” one of the saddest songs in a generation. (Hear a very nice demo version with additional verse here.) Really, the sounds in Kid A were new to a lot of ears, but not entirely new in the music biz. (Aphex Twin, a major influence on the band and album, famously didn’t see what the big deal was.)What it is: a transformative amalgam of pop songs, and the best of its kind. You can live in Kid A, or die there, you can expect experience both the terror of inevitability and the freedom of letting it go.
[The National Anthem]
Kids Catching Fire: A Choreography
1. Above the muted pulsing progression, cut to a dreaming man the moment he realizes he wants to run. The most disturbing note the one which doesn’t modulate.
2. All the children’s toys lift off the floor, suspend, begin to melt. The Speak & Spell spirals, singing.
3. Outside, on the back of a flatbed truck breaknecking backwards downhill in neutral, someone uncases a baritone sax, another a slide trombone. Crashing at the bottom, the bannered park gazebo shatters into patriotic splinters.
4. Watching from beneath dripping trees, a transparent guitar considers which calm suicide might claim him.
5. Ice water skin. The river carries our bodies submerged past sunken swan bones.
6. Ascending two scales at once, you can try the best you can. Somewhere in the near distance, tom toms drone almost tribal.
7. When a dreaming man runs, the ground whirlpools around him. The fixed note a sonar beacon.
8. Scrape a screwdriver down your arm. Cast the flashback between a tied-down boy and a beatbox metronome blinking every quarter note.
9. What a stunning sunrise through the charred window frame.
10. The reed organ you bellow with bare feet thinks itself giving birth to embers. Your curved fingers spaced equally apart, raking the glow. Both of you breathing now. Angels too, invoking their top-heavy harps.
11. Every dream ends in sine wave. Every wave wakes before the first pulse.
KID A: Notes Toward an Indecorous Ode
O millennial epitaph, encrusted with phonemes.
O you cobwebbed-attic puppet-theater of fire and ice, you wet/dry vac, you shotgun marriage of heaven and hell.
O damaged space-baroque pageant of drones, drifts, winding sheets, lurches, lapses: we find ourselves in successive ecologies, swerving from revelry to reverie to resignation and back.
If it takes two-and-a-half species of sonic flora elapsing for a creature-voice to wriggle to the surface, so be it: those searching, mewling, lovely melodic strains are so many cursive etchings on your gleaming obsidian tray. We swoon in several new ways.
O creepy Garden of Earthly Delights—sumptuous, polymorphous, lush with obscure deviance and pleasure and spoilage—you are the true sound of the suburbs!
O mission statement in how convulsive beauty might survive when it finds itself subjected to varying types and doses of sedation, we can think of no more cogent synthesis of the ominous and the elegant!
Your composite cloud of disembodied emanations bespeaks not precisely paranoia or an android future but what felt and still feels like the cosmic undercurrents of THE PRESENT MOMENT: the aching and respiring and babbling of all manufactured material substance itself, of the aggregated gestalt that’s made up of every human-generated object on earth at any given moment—un-nature’s collective cantata-mass.
O you nice dream, thanks for haunting us.
KID A Replayed
ALPHA. I can’t think about KID A without thinking of AMNESIAC. I don’t even think of them as part one and part two. More like side one and side two, though there are eight sides total (each album released as a two-record ten-inch vinyl set). EVERYTHING IN ITS RIGHT PLACE just ended—in the space before KID A, a dog barked out the window, digging into the open grooves. Now Thom Yorke’s going YZOWWWW. This was what Yorke had to say after OK Computer. Could I have predicted that KID A and AMNESIAC would age more slowly than OK Computer?
BETA. Yes and no. Everyone is so. Near. We thought KID A and AMNESIAC would go away, and we’d return to or be left with OK Computer. Until we realized we liked this strange new Radiohead, which had more to say about the new millennium. We could hear Radiohead better on this side. So alive? So allowed. So alone. Horns battle bass for most relentless instrumentation. We drool along, pry open the tray to find the hidden liner. Soon we’ll know HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY. Nice dream. Listen carefully. This isn’t happening. The band comes around. We’re still not here.
GAMMA. Ten years are self-evident. Five years can’t be recognized. Eight years are hard to grasp. Ten years make sense. Your co-worker liked OPTIMISTIC. You knew why. The best you can is good enough. Your co-worker was a nice person. You didn’t keep in touch. OOH OOH OOH. When are you IN LIMBO and when are you OPTIMISTIC? Check the readout, mark the groove. Trap doors that open. You know what comes next. You’re living in a fantasy. Between here and there is better than either here or there. The warp and wend of you and you and you and
DELTA. Here they are. Glitching mad. Recall a hidden vocal. Ice age come and ice age come in. This is really happening. Will this sound classic and new in another 10 years? Everything all the time. They’ve forgotten their titles. They’ve missed a few beats. The bump on the head. Welcome to the afterfuture. Everything is dated and now. A chorus of woe. Setting consonants. Shrieking strings. Watch them go. Harmonium for their troubles. The same last song as next time and the time after that. The crackling grows with the giant fluttering. In their world, the songs go on.
[How To Disappear Completely]
This is really happening
It’s the Tuesday after Kid A came out, and I’m driving down 70th past El Cajon Blvd. There’re just a few lights and I can speed a little. San Diego’s just cooling down, which means a gimmicky shade of cold – low 60’s and everyone’s in pea coats, scarves. Windows closed. I’m on my way to drop off the photos I shot for Alan and Stina’s wedding, glossy black and whites of the condo pool area, the minister in sunglasses and an AA hat. They absolutely played Time of Your Life. This little girl got her finger stuck in the pool gate. Right now, on the other, much better hand, Idioteque’s on loud and making my crappy speakers almost go fuzzy, skirting that boundary but holding tight in the blue margin just enough. So good.
But this is just a slightly awkward detour: my new girlfriend’s flying in this afternoon from New York, and at this exact moment she’s almost certainly bleary eyed in Vegas International before the final leg of the budget flight we’ve been talking about for months, and a couple of desperate husbands are absolutely running back to the slots in the smoking area, probably checking her out, and she’s listening to the exact same thing, headphones on tight. I know it. She called me two days ago and said she got high and rode the D train just to watch the maintenance lights pass the windows in time with it, and for that how could I love her any more, really? How?
Everything all of the time
Let’s start somewhere near the beginning. The second time I saw Radiohead live they were opening up for Belly at the University of Maryland. Thom Yorke mentioned that he had overheard a record-store clerk refer to them as a “one-hit wonder.” Fast-forward to Kid A— the double 10” LP that I had to have. Naturally, despite various media reports of this album being “cold” and “not a rock record,” the vinyl sold out almost as soon as it hit the rack (so much for being only a “one-hit wonder”).
I remember pedaling all over Portland (Oregon, where I lived at the time), scouring Seattle, visiting family and hunting through bins in Philly and South (& North) Jersey for the record. I also searched my favorite record shop in Barcelona where I found Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psycho Candy, The Cure’s Pornography and a Moose 12-inch (remember them?).
Later I found myself in Paris shopping in some large mega store (like Virgin) thinking that a PJ Harvey record might have been released in France before the US and instead stumble onto a bin full of Kid A records. Score!
Much later that same year my girlfriend (at the time), a roommate and I piled into the car at 2 in morning, pumped on caffeine, Kid A blaring from the speakers, to make our way to see Radiohead play at Gorge Ampitheatre located in Washington on the Columbia Gorge. It was the best Radiohead show I’ve seen and I will always remember Thom Yorke squealing away as the sun was swallowed up by the gorge and then there were stars and guitar feedback. What more could a person ask for?
Kid A’s anniversary will come and I will make myself a drink, think of landscapes, road trips, past loves, old friends— the life thus lived, the life which remains. I will think of “Idioteque,” “Here I’m alive/ Everything all of the time.”
Dateline Boston: This is really happening
August 14, 2001–I was at Suffolk Downs with my friends seeing my first Radiohead show ever. For those unfamiliar, Suffolk Downs is Boston’s horse racing track. Previous to that night, I had never been there. All you need to know is that it’s both awful (isn’t all horse racing kind of awful?) and near Logan Airport. We gleefully smoked a ton of pot making merry horse and dog racing jokes. I couldn’t even bore you with a description of who said what. Memory does not serve. I do remember, however, what happened during the show.
The sun finally started to fucking set in that August blue that makes everyone want to live forever. But unfortunately, Radiohead was in a foreshadowing mood. Idioteque. During Idioteque the planes from Logan began to pound down overhead at rush hour pace. Low. Loud. Almost as loud as Radiohead.
Ice age coming
Ice age coming
Here I’m alive
The intensity of these words while the planes flew low (I mean dangerously low over the crowd) was terrifying. Women and children first. I felt like something really bad was happening or about to happen and please don’t assume it was a weed freakout. My friends all felt like something bad was going to happen also. The whole crowd’s energy implied something bad was about to happen.
Something bad was about to happen.
This was really happening.
I felt a message in the song and in the planes over head – that is, in the juxtaposition. Since that night I have learned a lot. I don’t believe in fate. But that night cross my hahhht there was an awful stink in the air and it wasn’t the horses’ shit from Suffolk Downs.
I realize how common it is to hear of an album changing someone’s life. Nonetheless, may I tell you how this album brought me from an economics degree at Wake Forest, NC to writing poetry in Oakland? Nearly ten years ago I decided to pledge a fraternity. What could I do? I was a liberal, attending (for foolish reasons) a conservative university and actually feeling more lost than in high school. I don’t remember what prompted me to make a stop on a pledging errand to pick up Kid A, nor the many of dozens of listens to the album that semester. However, I do remember writing my first poem while Kid A played on my earphones. Yes, my first poem, outside of a school assignment, was about outer space and inspired by Kid A. Granted, it was not a good poem, but I’ve never recovered from the boundless feeling writing it gave me. That spring, I took a poetry workshop and found my passion. The rest followed in quick succession. I worked in Manhattan for two years, writing poetry at my cubicle. I then moved to UC Davis for an MA in Poetry, where I met my wife, Allison. And here I am, writing poems and teaching English and Creative Writing to high school students in Oakland. Always one for completing circles, I recently played Kid A to my Creative Writing class during their warm-up activity and joined them.
Temple Mount visit prompt intifada, when the previous evening brought new reports of growing dissatisfaction
satisfactions of literature discarded, revolution mauve, sonics belonging both to people & planet, concrete rose
rose planetary hallucinations not without appeal—after all, we find ourselves in circumstances yet revealed
revealed in the crusades, the human-looking voyages that passed for republics without history or religion
be very difficult for a democratic nation: to start a war and to end it.
We think we are on the right road to improvement because we
are making experiments.
Out of deserts, out of brute, boutiques glance at farms only to sneer about real
“real” the other, somehow “unreal” . . . It was just freeing to discard the
notion of purely
pure soul menace, dance billions, tower, tours of the dent & mortuary, tours of folly
& November never once beat us, the bluebells long gone by the time any federal
I had never listened to Radiohead before. Ok, maybe “Creep,” on the radio back home in Los Angeles, but I don’t think that counts. In any case, “Creep” didn’t sound a thing like this. Kid A is a problem. It is noise. It doesn’t make any sense. “You like this stuff?” I say to my freshman year roommate. I remember being 10 years old and hearing Achtung Baby for the first time: flamboyant, dirty, flanged out. I didn’t get it. Kid A was different: sterile, depressed, computerized. I don’t get it, either.
Some months later, on a flight from Boston to Los Angeles, maybe I’m going home for Christmas. But anyway, Kid A is on my headphones, probably because I’ve decided to give it a second chance. I can’t sleep on airplanes, but I can’t stay awake, either, so I doze off. Later, I wake up. “Motion Picture Soundtrack” is just starting. I’ve never ventured this far into the album. The song is gorgeous. Is sad and beautiful and perfect. (There are harps. There is a pump organ.) I play the song again. I start the album again from the beginning. I don’t know what has changed. Something has changed. The album ends. I start it again. Ok, I get it now.
I despaired when I heard that Neil Young, a major music hero of mine, had made the comment that music cannot change the world. It bothered me for months, until I came to terms with the fact that nothing can change the world. Then I reflected on the moment that changed me and realized that only individuals can be overthrown, altered, or improved. I can remember exactly how I felt, where I was, and how it smelled the first time I heard Kid A. I thought, “Everything is changed.” It was all I could think. Kid A has been a filter wrapped around my brain from the moment I turned on MTV2 and watched a record spin and heard Kid A come out. I immediately lost all sense of place and time; during that first listening, I was crippled. Kid A is a towering piece of musical art that left me feeling like a stranger in my own self. The sounds are disembodied, the lyrics are modern poetry, the mood is so unnerving the listener can only be left with catharsis. Even the song structure, the use of plot arc from Greek tragedy, rips Kid A from everything that came before it in popular music and forces itself on you like a revolution of the personal.
Kid A came out the fall of my freshman year of college, and I guess I was more or less aware of it (I’d seen Radiohead live as early as 1995, when they opened for REM on the Monster tour, and were still willing to play “Creep”) but it didn’t make an impact on me for roughly a year. My group of friends and I blasted Kid A compulsively all through the long strange fall of 2001. Kid A seemed then (and still seems now) to have best embodied, validated, and salved the schizophrenic charge of collective possibility and doom that infused wake-of-9/11 America—in our little cranny of Northern Florida no less than anywhere else, as unbelievable as that may sound. It was a record you could play while sipping rotwhiskey alone at sunset, brooding over the wounded country and the lying war, but then put on again at ten-thirty to start an impromptu dance party in your living room. And if you queued it up a third time at say two AM, it would lend tremendous depth and romance to your lovemaking or else rock you off to lonesome self-pitying oblivion—whichever the case was. There seemed to be nothing that Kid A was incapable of making better and more true and so we loved it until it was thin and ruined for us. I took a several years’ break from it and still only listen to it rarely, when I am hungry to be sucked back up into the old beautiful bullshit and magic.
I’m going on too long but let me tell you this one more thing. In a late scene in my first novel, a character stops by a record store. The book is set around the turn of the millennium, and I needed her to buy something that would serve as an emblem not just of her own change, but for all the ways in which the country and culture around her had changed, were changing still. I wanted very badly to give her a copy of American Water, because the Silver Jews are one of my favorite bands and because I honestly believe that she would’ve liked it, but of course that was not the answer. She could only have picked up a copy of Kid A.
Radiohead’s Kid A has left an indelible and significant imprint in the history of music and art. These marks do not come easily. First, it requires that the particular work of art breaks the status quo. Kid A yanked the steering wheel and publicly established a new and crucial musical genre in the new millennium. With heavily-textured, post-apocalyptic electronic layers; Thom Yorke’s desperate and despondent vocals; Phil Selway’s perfectly-syncopated percussion; Yorke, Ed O’Brien and Johnny Greenwood’s polyrhythmic bass and guitar work; and hosts of live instrumentation that included string-orchestras and afro-beat horn sections, Kid A forged a path whereby thousands of progressive/“indie” rock acts could perform, but know their limits. Second, it requires that a musical work not only engages the listener, but also immerses them in the experience. Kid A forces listeners to submerge themselves in heavy solitude and blindingly bright consciousness. At times, it is so unbearable that, like staring into the sun, its listeners sharply pull away.
Thom Yorke, during the recording of Kid A, said his favorite record label was Warp Records. I liked that a whole hell of a fucking lot because my favorite musical act were signatories with Warp—the Anti Pop Consortium. Yorke listed the “abstract rat pack” as one of his favorite acts, too. This was 1999, the same year that I heard The Roots’s Things Fall Apart, specifically a track called “You Don’t See Us,”—where Black Thought spatlines: “Ok Computer/Radiohead’s knock to the future/shock like Curtis/at your service. . .” I realized Radiohead was righteous enough to get attention from these types of folks I thought were in another musical realm which was merging jazz, fusion, sampling and electro into one apparatus of sound. This is what good hip-hop does—shouts you out and expands your audience, samples you and revives you, big-ups you and exalts you. Deserved attention is just that.
fireworks and hurricanes
howling down the chimney
red wine and sleeping pills
fodder for the animals
lost at sea
that’s not me
I wanted to tell you
standing in the shadows
this is really happening
floating around on a prison ship
it’s not like the movies
the lights are on
you’ve got ventriloquists
trapdoors that open
at the end of my bed
sleepy jack the fire drill
cheap sex and sad films
a bump on the head
another message I can’t read
I wanted to tell you
on the lawn with the furniture
this isn’t happening
the moment’s already passed
in its right place
all of the time
little white lies
women and children
rats and children
the first of the children
sucking a lemon
that’s not me
I’m not here
I wanted to tell you
I will see you in the next life
strobe lights and blown speakers
now I might as well
if you try
walk through walls
is so near
I wanted to tell you
yesterday I woke up
I’ve always stubborly maintained that OK Computer is a better album than Kid A. I’ve argued this relentlessly. I remember attempting to support this claim one night maybe four years ago at a bar in the East Village. I was outnumbered. I was inarticulate, and I was fighting a losing battle. But no one could convince me. It was “Motion Picture Soundtrack” that finally made me see I was wrong. I listened to it over and over. It stuck, covered me in a thick syrup. Ten years later, this is my official statement of surrender:
Kid A is perfect. Yorke’s voice is distorted in all the right places. The Wasteland backdrop radioactively hums. Civilization continues to decline, and the apocolypse approaches with “Strobe lights and blown speakers / Fireworks and hurricanes.” When “Treefingers” plays, I think of the droning tree frogs of my childhood. They have these vocal pouches that allow them to make their alarm and distress calls, their static meditative noise.
There’s a certain horror in the measured dialogue of Idioteque, where one side insists, “We’re not scaremongering,” and the other side demands, “Let me hear both sides.” In fact, the release of Kid A coincided with the start of a decade of terror, where public attention was consumed by fear: and Kid A is a terrifying album.
I’d been in the Air Force for two years when Kid A came out. I remember ‘my first time’ very clearly, and I haven’t listened to music the same way since. I didn’t have much good to say about the album right away, but I couldn’t really say anything bad either. I wasn’t neutral; I just realized I didn’t quite ‘get’ what I was hearing. A few days later I had the (at the time inexplicable) urge to listen to it again. After this second run-through, it stayed in my CD player for a while.
It wasn’t just innovative because it incorporated electronic music in an unprecedented way; it had horns, distorted bass, 1950’s-pop-music-style string arrangements, forwards/backwards loops, thick vocal layering (again, backwards and forwards), polyrhythms, and possibly the most beautiful album ending I’d ever heard.
Kid A is a terrifying album but it is soothing at the same time– possibly because it reflects the terror and structured discomfort that already surrounds us. Kid A offers a catharsis to this, an almost religious kind of comfort, when it finally ends with “I will see you in the next life,” (whatever that might be). And it makes good on its promise with the short, Treefingers-like reprise after a moment of silence. It remains an album that I listen to from start to finish, and there is still nothing out there quite like it.
[Motion Picture Soundtrack]