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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Hail to the Thief

Rating: 9/10 ?

June 10, 2003
You know, for a band as prolific and potent as Radiohead, the now-iconic quintet have certainly escaped relatively unscathed from the pantheon of public exposure. Sure, leader and mouthpiece Thom Yorke took a highly publicized beating a few years back, but for the most part the group's albums have largely been simply accepted as great works of art and, once the contingent of the band's fans that also heavily favored Nine Inch Nails had either split or come to terms with the fact that the OK Computer-era guitar ferocity was not going to be rehashed, they have gone without detailed debate. Detailed analysis and hand wringing, yes. But debate, not so much. Honestly, could you imagine if critics, pundits and television moderators took to mulling over the background and societal implications of Radiohead (that is to say what sort of gravity the Radiohead monolith exerts, a "Radiohead Effect" if you will, on the world it is, albeit distortedly, reflecting) the way they do Eminem? Like Egon Schiele, there is so much more to Radiohead than first meets the eye, so much lurking under the surface, but why bother with it? Isn't it better to just sit back and enjoy the artwork, saving the thesis work for Warhol or some subsequent Warhol-worshiping blip on the pop art radar? That sounded awkward. What I mean to say, quite rhetorically, is: Isn't Radiohead kind of like the wildest girl-of-your-dreams delivered, pre-oiled with tequila and mescal, to your clutches? And by that I mean isn't it just so beautiful on the surface that you just want to lay with it and enjoy it and not get all heavy with emotionally? When the oddly infectious "Backdrifts (Honeymoon Is Over)" warbles into frame after Hail to the Thief's opening triplet and promptly erupts into a skittering, slightly ambient wash of a club beat, who can really sit still long enough to analyze the placement of high and low tones in relation to shifts in cadence and structure when the shit is just going off?

The synthesis of Radiohead's old ideas with fresh new patterns continues seamlessly on Hail to the Thief, further underscoring the truth behind the Oxfordsmen's meteoric and ironically global success - they're really just that good. Take album opener "2+2=5" and the frenetic glitch beats and sturdy rock backbone of "Sit Down. Stand Up." for example. Or really the entire album, to be honest, and you can chart Radiohead's growth into a pattern similar to that of an emerging human identity. We have been there as the band stumbled through formative moments on Pablo Honey and then gained composure with The Bends before the explosive growth spurt of OK Computer called for new shoes, new ideas and new approaches. But as human personality careens about and changes pitch and direction wildly in the teen age years, so too did Radiohead undergo an idealistic and textural revolution with the timeless bomb that was Kid A. Things were changing dramatically and rapidly and anything seemed possible, the band possibly getting too much credit for the textures on the album (which were inspired by a lot of specific reference points) and not enough credit for weaving them together the way they did. Then the sobriety of mortality set in with the articulate but reserved Amnesiac, a document to the fact that Radiohead had stitched their skin and grown comfortably into it. After a path of destruction and exploration is blazed through one's own consciousness is precisely when the fine-tuning begins, and, as Hail to the Thief deftly illustrates, that is where the work is.

To be frank, there isn't much that can be said about Radiohead anymore, a fact that I just keep saying. As arguably the most identifiable band brand in the history of music, they operate on the premise of being ideologically opposed to the very notion of a globally identifiable band brand. They've congealed the loose ends of their identity through refinement into a hulking black monolith of modern sound art. Everything they do sounds new and fresh but simultaneously derivative of themselves - perhaps best exemplified here by "Where I End And You Begin (The Sky Is Falling In)," a track that could be the sonic median of their entire catalogue: propulsive and crisp 21st century percussion, long and flowing strands of synth sounds, faded echoes of society's white noise, Yorke's timbre both as disarming falsetto and monotonous anti-corporate brainwashing tool, and even a few distorted guitar stabs for the old schoolers. To borrow a phrase from the parlance of our times, them shits is good. A couple of tracks later and "The Gloaming (Softly Open Our Mouths In The Cold)" easily marks the band's most frigid moment, dominated as it is by glitchy percussion and soft, detached vocals, but that in turn is followed up by "There There (The Boney King Of Nowhere)," which is reminiscent of longtime live staple "The Bodysnatchers" in that it occupies a very quiet, very persistent, very organic, bass-driven corner of the band's catalogue. Mmmmmm, I love it.

As musicians go, Radiohead is a collection of creative, talented, and now well-seasoned players. Compared with the fruits of their career thus far, Hail to the Thief might be more of a look back than a leap ahead, but what better time to survey the damage than when you're on top? Radiohead are at the top of their game and the top of the world. They have an undeniable fingerprint marking their work, even from the early going, yet they remain elusive. The Radiohead tag is the anti-brand. Predictable unpredictability, the most dangerous asset and the key to Hail to the Thief, an album that sounds like every great Radiohead moment rolled up into one.

Reviewed by Avery Jones

See other reviews by Avery Jones



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