After the triumph of OK Computer, Radiohead fell into a creative tailspin -- and frontman Thom Yorke into a nervous breakdown. Exhausted from touring, hounded by press, and jaded by copycats, he escaped into the electronica scene pioneered by Kraftwerk and Warp Records -- fertile ground, the band discovered. Trading spacey rock for apocalyptic brooding, they teased their new sound not with singles or music videos but with innovative web streaming and cryptic, dreamlike "blips" -- winterlands, flocks of cubes, eyeballs, bears. After nearly breaking up over tracklist angst, they cut the kid in half. Thus fifteen years ago today, Kid A and (later) Amnesiac debuted, a confounding mix of electronic fugue, whalesong, pulsing IDM, drunken piano, and epic jazz funeral whose insights into anxiety, political dysfunction, and climate crisis would make it one of the most revered albums of the twenty-first century. See the documentary Reflections on Kid A for interviews and live cuts, or look inside for much more. [more inside]
One day in February several years ago, William D. Drake – a distant cousin of famous folk musician Nick Drake – released two very different albums at once. There was Yew's Paw, a collection of strange and lovely piano music, such as the bouncy, joyful Pipistrelle, the sometimes-misty, sometimes-urgent At the End of the Harbour Wall. (Not to mention the aptly-named Short & Sweet Like A Donkey's Gallop, which is 17 satisfying seconds long.) Then there was Briny Hooves, a set of rock/folk/pop songs which are all confounding and fantastic. Wolves is an angry elegy that's nonetheless incredibly catchy; equally catchy is Serendipity Doodah. Ugly Fortress is a softer, Beatlesy sort of tune, The Fountains Smoke is a lovely folk duet, and Requiem for a Snail is exactly what it claims to be. Perhaps its two most affecting moments are Sweet Peace, a gently dark number that grows and grows, and Seahorse, which is very reminiscent of Robert Wyatt's (also wonderful) Rock Bottom. Both albums are worth a listen, and both can be streamed freely from Bandcamp—Yew's Paw, Briny Hooves, and Drake's more recent album The Rising of the Lights.
In the wake of their grunge-y breakout hit "Creep" and the success of sophomore record The Bends, Thom Yorke and the rest of Radiohead were under pressure to deliver once more. So they shut themselves away inside the echoing halls of a secluded 16th century manor and got to work. What emerged from that crumbling Elizabethan castle fifteen years ago today was a shockingly ambitious masterpiece of progressive rock, a visionary concept album that explored the "fridge buzz" of modernity -- alienation, social disconnection, existential dread, the impersonal hum of technology -- through a mosaic of challenging, innovative, eerily beautiful music unlike anything else at the time. Tentatively called Ones and Zeroes, then Your Home May Be at Risk If You Do Not Keep Up Payments, the band finally settled on OK Computer, an appropriately enigmatic title for this acclaimed harbinger of millennial angst. For more, you can watch the retrospective OK Computer: A Classic Album Under Review for a track-by-track rundown, or the unsettling documentary Meeting People is Easy for a look at how the album's whirlwind tour nearly gave Yorke a nervous breakdown. Or look inside for more details and cool interpretations of all the tracks -- including an upcoming MeFi Music Challenge! [more inside]
In their 25 year career San Fransisco-based Kronos Quartet might be most famous for creating the go-to dramatic movie trailer music but they've recently courted controversy with their latest album, 9/11, with Steve Reich (NPR First Listen). The album is another in a long line of collaborations with composers such as Phillip Glass, Terry Riley, and Pēteris Vasks. And like any good instrumental ensemble, they've covered Hendrix, Sigur Ros, and Tom Waits. Oh, and they've been on Sesame Street. [more inside]
"I was unaware, in my awe of adults playing folk songs, that they would push me into a different world altogether, a world in which only some would ultimately be deemed worthy to publicly perform music: those who were ‘musically talented’. And that talent was determined by one’s ability to imitate, precisely, music written by others." How I Learned To Play Guitar
Looking for something familiar with a twist? Best told from their About Us Page: Vitamin Records was formed in Los Angeles in 1999 to provide music lovers with high quality string quartet, lounge and electronic tributes to major pop and rock artists. Vitamin's mission is to offer fans exciting versions of their favorite songs performed in new musical contexts. [more inside]
Vanessa Mae Nicholson is one of Britain’s most successful young musicians. A classical violinist and former child prodigy who self-describes her crossover style as "violin techno-acoustic fusion," her fans praise her modern creativity and frenetic, lightning-fast riffs. But is her talent learned or genetic? Documentary from BBC1 in 2008: Vanessa Mae - The Making of Me: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. [more inside]
The Guardian has compiled a list of their top fifty arts videos, the majority being from either rare or obscure sources and uploaded onto YouTube.
Mr. Frank J. Stola (flash): a self-described professional musician who mangles any and all genres he attempts. Don't miss his take on instrumental fusion rock classical jazz, revolutionary country n western traditional, or heavy metal instrumental on CD Baby. Equally marvelous are his strange, minimal videos. And don't forget to pick up Mr. Stola's myriad products at his Cafepress store. Is he serious?