Source Material: Radiohead, Kid A
by Stephanie Benson | November 2, 2011
Rhapsody named Radiohead's Kid A its No. 1 album of the '00s. Released in late 2000, the album now reveals itself as a sort of ominous oracle pointing us toward a future of technological dependence, where words lose meaning in binary code and digital devices serve as conduits of emotion.
Radiohead started to deconstruct this sort of Brave New World mentality with 1997's OK Computer. Ironically, that album's acclaim only made them feel further alienated. So instead of going the way of raw sentiment (i.e. "Creep") for their next round in the studio, the band took the opposite approach, breaking down pain, passion and paranoia into digitized sound manipulations -- even tweaking Thom Yorke's schoolboy wails into android chatter and spectral purrs. Yorke's lyrics themselves came from a place partially detached from human consciousness; he was influenced by Dadaist poetry, which involves writing one-liners, putting them into a hat and drawing them out at random. The result of all this is an album that sounds beamed in from the insular surface of the moon. Its opaque textures glisten with twinkling music boxes, bustling horns, fanciful harp, crystallized hums, dissonant reception and plenty of unidentified flying clatter.
Kid A ultimately became a prototype for the electronic experimentation and cross-pollination of genres that would influence and define much of the music released in the '00s. But it didn't completely come out of nowhere. Radiohead did their research: those blips, bleeps and ambient drones were inspired by the innovative work coming out on British indie label Warp Records in the '90s, including music from Aphex Twin, Autechre and Boards of Canada; another U.K. label, Mo' Wax, brought fragmented trip-hop and jazz-tinged hip-hop to the attention of the band through artists like DJ Krush and DJ Shadow. That storm of brass sweeping through "National Anthem" has its roots in the free jazz stylings of Charles Mingus. Those tripping motorik beats and scattered loops bear the fingerprints of Krautrock kings Can, Neu! and Faust. And the piece of gear known as an Ondes Martenot was inspired by the pioneering work of French composer Olivier Messiaen -- one of the first electronic instruments, its sound is like a cross between a deranged string quartet and a shivering theremin, and Jonny Greenwood's experimentations with the Ondes on tracks like "Kid A" and "How to Disappear Completely" helped rocket Radiohead's sound into the farthest of galaxies.
The artists and the albums below represent the various pieces of the Kid A puzzle. That such disparate influences could frolic so seamlessly with one another is what makes this album such a mystifying masterpiece.