Sorry, Amnesiac, you were way ahead of us

I was fifteen when I heard Radiohead's OK Computer for the first time. This was shortly after seeing "Karma Police" on MTV and knowing I had to have the album right away. Like Pablo Honey, OK Computer was straightforward enough for my undeveloped palette, but the band had also gotten noticeably artsier, and in spite of the essentially hook-based songs, it was different than the other stuff that was getting play then (Think: Limp Bizkit -- no, wait, don't).

OK Computer was brooding and atmospheric, ominous, even, but it felt honest and open at the same time, not afraid to make you wait for the payoff in "Paranoid Android" or to play with unabashedly pretty lullaby textures in "No Alarms and No Surprises." When Kid A and Amnesiac came out three years later, I was just coming off a mostly ecstasy-induced period of raves and techno. I had done an about-face to the hardcore punk of the '80s, and I just wasn't ready for it.

The kind of heavily-processed blips and dried up static-drums the album trafficked in ended up being so fundamentally influential we hardly notice them now, but back then, right in the midst of alternative pop and nu-metal, Kid A was radical in its appropriation of electronic textures to create the idiosyncratic, angular sound that made it possible for bands like Animal Collective to even exist.

I, however, was not interested in anything that featured synthesizers or more than three chords, and like a fool, I mostly ignored this game-changing diptych. I bought Kid A, and soon lost interest. I completely passed over Amnesiac, and forgot about Radiohead until Hail to the Thief.

It wasn't until recently I heard "Pyramid Song" come on somebody's iPod and could identify the band but not the album. The song is rooted in a beautiful, mystical piano line that slips from 5/4 to 4/4 effortlessly, leaning over the precipice of a beat and catching itself again until a lilting jazz-drum groove and vaguely Arabian-nights-sounding orchestration drop in and elevate the song into something approaching sublime. I was mesmerized. And right away, like with "Karma Police," I had the feeling that I had to have the album immediately, even if it had been out for ten years. So finally, I really listened to it.

It's unbelievably good. Throughout the record, Radiohead experiments with dynamics similar to those in "Pyramid Song," combining long periods of droning, hypnotic sounds with deep-groove breakdowns that seem not so much to drop as to land -- like lunar modules, vestiges of human invention in an alien landscape.

And even after ten years, it all seems as inventive and strange and wonderful as it did then. Unlike the minimalist wave of garage bands that were changing paradigms back then -- Franz Ferdinand or The Strokes, for example -- whose catalogues now sound, well, like music that came out then, Amnesiac retains its sense of danger long after the hype is over. It's utterly fresh and bracing, and it still sounds like it shouldn't be scheduled to come out for at least another ten or so years.

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte