KID A IS 10
Released 10 years ago this week (02/10/2000).
Kid A is in my humble opinion one of the top 3 albums of all time. The dark brooding but ‘optimistic’ atmosphere it creates sounds exciting and not at all dated ten years on from its release. I believe it is a record that will prove to be a defining moment in music in another ten years time and far beyond.
Kid A is one of the few albums I can actually discuss in a detailed way – the tracklist flows out of my head >>>
Everything In Its Right Place
The National Anthem
How To Disappear Completely
Motion Picture Soundtrack
It was unnervingly exposed in one of the (unusually for Radiohead) most innovative ways of the time – with a series of ‘blips’ on MTV2 in the two weeks leading up to its release which meant that if you were an MTV2 junkie like me you were enraptured by the whole thing. Cartoon bears with big round eyes and zip-like mouths, brooding digital mountain landscapes, glass-like platforms stretching out to the distance all accompanied by spooky 20 second music clips. Subliminal branding and full on intrigue.
No one could have expected what Radiohead had produced along with Nigel Godrich that autumn. Eleven stunning compositions
I even remember picking out the glossy black CD tray to reveal a weighty second booklet made of tracing paper with even more weird drawings and then having the ‘have you found the secret booklet?’ conversation with my best musically knowledgeable buddies. We were basically creaming ourselves with excitement because our new-found heroes had turned up with something we all felt. This band had made music that connected the dots between the subdued hormone-led emotions we had as teenagers with the beige boxes containing programs like Napster we had all recently started to use in a manner akin to how we do today. The album is both timeless and of its time.
From the opening bars of Everything In Its Right Place which gestures you down into this murky but precise world to the most incredible scuzzed up bassline of The National Anthem this album does something many albums don’t. It presents itself to you behind shutters. It hints to you with miniature yet imposing hooks throughout, making the whole thing feel like a dream which occasionally alerts you to something that could be important and then fades away until the next one comes along – maybe in one and three quarter tracks time.
Idioteque was of course the standout track – the closest they got to releasing a single from the album. Optimistic to me, was on equal terms and it made my train journey to London during my Year 10 work experience at an architects office one of the most exciting things I had ever experienced! Bright cold autumn mornings, I wasn’t at school and my new favourite band was taking me into new territory every day. Then, Morning Bell is just the deftest touch.
With its release I think some fans of Radiohead’s more guitar led songs from Pablo Honey, The Bends and OK Computer felt it was disconnected from both them and the band they had been watching for the last eight years or so. The band were known for their dour outlook, intellect and scarred emotion so how could an album conceived on computers make them feel human? For me it was the opposite. I had never really warmed to their previous work and I still haven’t. Kid A opened them up to me and every record they have made since has been far more interesting to me than their earlier work.
Kid A has provided a wealth of inspiration for many bands. Here are the two musicians that I know who are the biggest fans of this album. They have recalled why it is one of their favourite albums of all time >>>
Robbie Parks (Glitches)
Glitches are a 4 piece band consisting electronic drumkit, guitar, bass and Robbie on keyboards / lead vocals. They will soon be embarking on a UK tour as main support to Hot Hot Heat and will be releasing their second EP before the year is out.
Kid A came into my life at a time when I was in the real infancy of my musical awareness. I was never really played any music by my parents. My dad might have played me some Orange Juice once but that was about it. I was a real blank canvas. In a way I was the very thing that Radiohead’s “No Logo” ethos despised. I had heard of the new album purely through their clever advertising. I was a consumer being influenced by the striking nature of their blip campaign and the hype the media gave them. I didn’t know anything about the music yet but was fully sucked in. Maybe if I told Thom Yorke this he wouldn’t like the contradiction very much. Maybe that’s not really important.
What was important was how that album changed my life. I remember so vividly the week that the album came out. I can recall the controversy behind the secret booklet. It was on the BBC News for God’s sake. This maniac called Thom Yorke had written in garbled code the problems with this modern age. Everything was fucked. I was struck by how terrifying he made Tony Blair look. It was fascinating for a thirteen year old boy. They were the first band since the Beatles to be at the top of the charts in both the UK and the US. “Why was this guy so miserable?” I asked myself.
In the months and years after my discovery I threw myself into a voracious consumption of their remaining music and anything else related to them. I frequented the H.M.V. on the west side of Oxford Street with my pocket money every weekend. First I bought their previous albums. When that wasn’t enough I moved onto collecting their singles. I even bought that shitty Japanese Itch E.P. for 30 quid. The OK Computer era singles artwork hit me hard. The weird picture on the front of Paranoid Android had been lodged in my subconscious ever since I was ten and had happened to see it passing by an OurPrice in Victoria Station. It was like Radiohead were a sleeper in my brain which had awoken. I read books about them. I drew the bear logo everywhere.
I became unbearable at school. I wanted everyone to know that I had discovered this band myself and no one had told me to. I wanted to form a band. I did and I wanted it to sound exactly like Radiohead. (I even wanted three guitarists in the band like them). Everything Thom Yorke said was right. He was even cool for breaking down throughout “Meeting People is Easy” in my mind.
The analysis of the actual music itself is well-documented. It’s cold and beautiful just like the album cover. I love it when winter comes and I can really indulge in the album from start to finish. Even as I listen to it again as I type I hear new layers of sound and noise. On first listen the jazz car crash at the end of The National Anthem and the similarity of Idioteque’s drumbeat to the 2-step garage around at the time of its release struck me the most. It is a classic album in the old-fashioned sense. It demands to be listened to from start to finish uninterrupted. Then it demands you listen to it all again. And again. Ad infinitum.
I rate Kid A above all other albums ever made in the history of the world. The ones that I’ve heard at least. “Why?”, you might ask. It is because of the fact that it has directly shaped my path of life in a tangible way. I even studied my degree at the University of Oxford partly to see Thom Yorke milling about town. I am in a band right now because of that album. The only other band I’d happily be in would be Radiohead. They are a cut above. I still want the band I’m in to get to that level of creative output. I know that there is a very good chance that might never happen. I know a lot of other people in very good bands feel that too. That is how good Kid A is.
I rate Kid A above other Radiohead albums before and after because of the real shock it gave everyone. The music on In Rainbows and OK Computer to me is just as accomplished. Kid A, however, really changed the game. After that we knew to expect the unexpected from Radiohead. With Kid A, everything we thought we knew about Radiohead and music was now wrong.
Harry Taylor (Action Beat!)
Harry Taylor of ACTION BEAT! who performed at Field Day 2010. ACTION BEAT! are a noise collective who often play live with 4 drummers, 4 guitars and violin. They constantly perform all over Europe and are signed to Fortissimo / Southern Records.
When I was 13, I heard No Surprises for the first time. It was delicate and mournful; anything else on the radio faded into irrelevance. A week later I bought OK Computer and fell for it. Hard. The music, the aesthetic, the lyrics. I hadn’t heard anything like it. I didn’t understand any of the references, musical or literal, but from that point on I read as much as I could about the band and learned about Douglas Adams, Chomsky, Bitches Brew, tape loops.
As soon as I heard about Kid A, I started counting down the days to its release. To set the scene, I was in my last year of upper school, something of a nerd, and a complete Radiohead pervert. As such, I was one of those who downloaded the live recordings of tracks that would appear on Kid A. I was also always on the website and found the blips straight away. At the same time, I had fallen so much in love with OK Computer as a complete album that I wanted to experience Kid A in a similar fashion, so I held out for its release proper to hear it for the first time as intended.
The anticipation and excitement I felt I haven’t experienced for the release of any album since. Straight after school I rushed out and bought my copy on CD. At home, I put it on and dissected the artwork. I remember seeing the hidden booklet peeking out at me. I took the case apart and there it was – the sly bastards. I hadn’t seen anything like that before. The visual content seemed to carry on from OK Computer, but it was darker and somehow more direct; the mountains at once beautiful and distorted, behind understated type and concise words.
Musically, it didn’t seem as radical a departure as people were making out. I’d heard a lot of the sounds and a lot of the influences creeping through on prior B-sides and live recordings. I knew Everything in Its Right Place already; when I heard it open up Kid A I knew they’d done it. They’d captured it, how I hoped it would sound. And they kept it up for the whole album. This was still very much Radiohead, but a new kind of Radiohead, one that made you want to move. The TV appearances confirmed this kinetic restlessness: I remember seeing Thom freaking out to Idioteque and wondering what other band would do that. But for all this rhythm there contained some beautiful moments of stillness.
Treefingers was bliss and Motion Picture Soundtrack took me to the same place that No Surprises had, and further still. I downloaded a low-quality version of the blip-montage video, and saved it for the times when I needed it most. No matter how many times I watch it, I still can’t fathom its beauty. It’s the kind of thing that I strive for as a musician. This extends to the album itself; it’s a striking and atmospheric work – a true album – that has its own identity; one that goes far beyond just a collection of songs.
Radiohead, of course are one of the biggest bands on the planet but they are arguably the most creative big band to have existed. Kid A is art. This album is of special significance not only to musicians but to all manner of creatives and lovers of music. Search through YouTube and you will find videos that people have put together for this album consisting of Idioteque dance moves and dripping blood. People submitted their own blip montages for their degrees. I don’t think any other album has caused such division and also provided people with the opportunity for creative expression as Kid A. It is a masterpiece – and now, 10 years on from its release and a jump forward from the start of the internet-age that inspired Radiohead – 2010 is a highly appropriate time to re/discover Kid A.
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