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Radiohead: Band of the Decade

January 4, 2010

Dan Evans
Radiohead: Band of the Decade

Few bands are as close to the hearts of pretentious audiophiles as beloved art-rock group Radiohead. Developing a discography that has pushed the envelope of rock music, the band shed their stadium rock roots in the 21st century, experimenting with electronics, synthesizers, and continual innovation to their sound. The thousands (aughts, zeroes, whatever you fancy calling the last ten years) belonged to Radiohead, and a series of fantastic albums, live performances, and trend-setting marketing schemes combined to make them peerless in both artistry and innovation. Of course, Band of the Decade isn’t a designation one just throws around (regardless of what it looks like I'm doing here). From a purely musical perspective, the group is responsible for some of the best records of the decade. At the forefront is Kid A, the band’s 2000 release which has been hailed by everyone from Rolling Stone to Pitchfork as the best album of the 2000s. The ten tracks marked a departure from previous guitar-based rock music, with the band exploring the possibilities of computer synthesizers, sampling, and even autotuning of singer Thom Yorke’s vocals. Instead of releasing a single and promoting the album conventionally, the band released a series of video blips that were circulated on the Internet and played on music television stations.

Perhaps this was a fitting way for such an album to be released.  Kid A was a complete and utter shock to the music world at release. While record sales were successful (USA Today called it "the most eccentric album ever to debut at No. 1"), it was panned critically, with many longing for a return to the tranquillized rock roots of OK Computer (which, incidentally, is frequently cited as the best album of the 1990s). Kid A's layered electronic textures and lack of traditional verse-chorus song structure makes it difficult on first listen. Radiohead pioneered the use of the internet in distribution of the album, which leaked in its entirety online prior to its physical release. The album was accompanied by a website that very well may be the most bizarre text-based site to hit the world wide web.

Radiohead followed up the immense artistic success of Kid A with Amnesiac, an album pieced together from the same marathon recording session that spawned Kid A. Despite being made at the same time, the latter group of songs has an entirely different feel, and had a successful single in both Britain and the United States with the haunting “Pyramid Song.” In spite of the changes to Radiohead's sound, with horns and upright bass finding a spot right next to Johnny Greenwood's Ondes Martenot. In 2003, another album, Hail to the Thief, attempted to find a semblance of balance between experimental electronics and traditional rock structure. Many of these songs were born out of live performances, as opposed to using the studio as an instrument as on previous efforts. The result was a return to a more conventional sound, with guitars and drums taking the spotlight on tracks such as "Go to Sleep (Little Man Being Erased)." With their contractual obligations to record label EMI completed, the band took a hiatus, and many fans feared the permanent dissolution of the group.

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