Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Grower, Not Shower: The Art of the Veiled, True Earworm

The past couple weeks have found me constantly humming a tune, no matter what time of day or state of being I am in - it's a song I can't shake, replace, or forget. This indelible tune is not poppy or instantly familiar. This song is "Kid A" by Radiohead.

The album Kid A was meant to reshape pop music, redefine a band who already achieved a huge following, and would continue to be one of rock's greatest bands. But Kid A wasn't rooted in the foundations laid by The Bends or OK Computer, no, it was pulled from a digital caul and swathed in static. Kid A, and the proceeding Amnesiac, prove to be Radiohead's most challenging listens, but they are certainly the catalogue's most rewarding -- I often pitch these two albums to introduce people to Radiohead; if they can find comfort in these sounds, the rest of the discography is a breeze.

I use "Kid A" as the representative example of a "grower" song because it's a song that is initially off-putting, but eventually totally engrossing; coded with effect-stained vocals; and all wrapped in digital interference. It sounds like perfectly executed chaos, but with each attentive listen, more and more of the distortion is peeled back to reveal a beautiful beacon made of silicon, yet completely human, an enigmatic song - it only takes, as it did with me, about four years and countless other albums in between to fully appreciate.

There are the "Kid A"s of the world, but there are also countless others that forcibly obfuscate their messages but lack an actual core. Animal Collective is the first band that comes to mind for most people, when discussing the topic of forced avant-garde music. But their music has been more about the musicality of the odd, not odd for the sake of odd. That plight was just, up until the band's latest release, Centipede Hz, which attempted to emulate a radio broadcast, much like how Kid A simulated the internet's connectivity and messages, among other futuristic themes. Centipede Hz features YouTube samples, songs that move nowhere on the surface with no reason underneath, and dawdling movements. It's not all bad, but you can hear the effort the band put into it, where Kid A feels effortless - like the band was predestined to release the album. This is a tightrope Cosmogramma walked with ease and grace, an album so jam-packed that its pandora box is new with each opening. So, ultimately, the maximalist's plight must be true and result of personal struggle, but never reveal its scars.

How can you judge if a piece of music has been forged with planned weirdness or an extent of character? Time. And I know this negates any criticism I have of Centipede Hz, as it is still a very young album, but it's the only truth. I am going out on a limb that I believe to be trustworthy in judging AnCo's latest effort. These are the risks you bear when taking a piece of art into judgement. It is your time after all, so spend it how you like. I spent the last couple years growing to love "Kid A" more and more, though it previously was a track I considered a minor chink in an otherwise flawless album - look how wrong I am now; it's a track I skip to and play on repeat.

So, when you first get something that seems too strange or harsh to listen to, let it breathe. Give it time; walk away from it for a while. This is how you should treat all art. Don't shun something because you can't understand it; you may end up loving it.

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