It is a very known fact that I am a big Radiohead appreciator. After all, I didn’t force my band to learn how to play over 100 Radiohead songs by heart just for the money (though, to be frank, the money was pretty good.) I’ve been a fan since 1997, from the very first time I saw the Paranoid Android video, which blew my mind and open the door to an amazing world of songwriting and musical adventurism.
But yeah, when Kid A was released I thought it was boring – at first. I was younger then, basically still a teenager, and perhaps I had more patience and tolerance than I do today. After listening to the album five times, I realized: it wasn’t boring, I just didn’t get it at first; this was so different from what they’ve done before, I almost missed out on it. But the songs were good, and the explorative soundscapes were intriguing.
The thing I’ve always loved about Radiohead was that, much like the Beatles, in spite of having a very distinctive signature sound and style, every song was different. Every song had its “thing”, be it the concept of the lyrics, the song structure, the arrangement and even the sound of the snare drum. Even on Pablo Honey and The Bends, Radiohead’s more straight-forward guitar-based rock albums, every song popped in a different way. Say what you will about Creep and Pop is Dead – those songs are one of a kind.
A Slow Fall Still Breaks Your Back
This quality started to die out around Hail to the Thief, though. Make no mistake, I love that album, but things were starting to sound a bit too similar there. I’ve noted in the past that HTTT was an accumulation of Radiohead’s entire body of work till that point, a brief reminder that said ‘this is everything we know how to do’, from intense prog-rock-esque time signatures through jazz to electronica and rap (okay, that one was new). It was brilliant but it was the end of an era, and it set the bar quite high for their next thing.
With The King of Limbs, and its predecessor In Rainbows, it seems that Radiohead are more concerned with innovating in the field of marketing than in the field music. Even though I don’t actually expect Radiohead to “innovate” – I just want them to write good songs. I hate it when artists are “required” to innovate, as if we’re scientists; in the 21st Century, all a band can really do is mix new elements with its signature style and hope for the best. Nothing is new, but everything is new at the same time. If a metal band suddenly starts playing polka – that’s new; and when a British rock band started playing jazz and live electronica – that was also new.
Well, it’s not new anymore. At this point, the most innovative thing Radiohead can do is to release a angsty-guitar-driven album à la The Bends. Many Radiohead fans would be delighted I’m sure, and I won’t lie, so would I.
Loops Loops Loops to Infinity and Beyond
I’ve never been a great fan of electronic music, but when Radiohead did it, I liked it. I’ve never been a particularly great fan of jazz and classical music either, but when Radiohead did it, it just felt right. But it felt right because it was the means to an end, and because the songs, in their core, were good.
There was one song in HTTT that I particularly didn’t like, and that song was The Gloaming. It sounded like a pale imitation of Idioteque, only with an inferior sound, a monotonic melody and none of the excitement. In fact, this was the first Radiohead album in which I’d frequently just skip over a song (and no, I didn’t skip over Fitter Happier, in case you’re wondering).
So imagine my dismay when I realized that the new Radiohead album pretty much sounds like The Gloaming Times 8. Although the sound is a million times better than in The Gloaming - the vocals are crisp and full, the drums are condensed and precise and the general mix is superb - the songs are persistently based on never-changing loops.
Now that’s okay for a B-side or for Thom Yorke’s solo work, but for an actual album, it feels kinda redundant. There is almost no “traditional” playing on the album, only layers upon layers of samples and noises, and that would have been fine if it weren’t for the complete lack of memorable melodies or crescendos.
The Radiohead I knew and loved was a band that would rip out your heart and hand it out to you, with Johnny Greenwood’s crooked guitar playing, Ed O’Brien’s background noise specialty and the unpredictable rhythm section of Philip Selway and Colin Greenwood (sometime he’d play a note-per-bar, and sometimes he’d embark on a crazy nearly incomprehensible fast-paced bass-line that would almost resemble a solo).
But even in songs that included nothing but a piano or an acoustic guitar and Thom Yorke’s haunting voice, you’d still get the excitement and the dynamics that make their music so emotionally enhancing.
The King of Limbs has none of that. Despites the pile-up of layers and the inventive use of effects and sound manipulations, the songs never elevate very far from the point in which they begin. The drum loops are too repetitive, and the melodies are quite monotonic, and don’t deliver the intensity of the lyrics (which are actually quite good).
The loops as loops are pretty cool. They’re fun to listen to if you’re at a party or as a soundtrack for a car-racing computer game. But I’d come to expect more from my favorite band.
Codex and Give Up the Ghost stand out as a non-drum-loop based songs, but that is a diversion – they are loop-based, only the loop is created using a piano and a guitar playing the same chords over and over and over for nearly five minutes.
Sure, one could say that this is the exact same concept they had in Kid A, where most of the songs were based on one chord or no chords at all. But in Kid A they had dynamics, they had enchanting melodies and they had extraordinary arrangements that lifted the song.
No, I’m afraid most of the songs on this album take after the weaker tracks on In Rainbow, like House of Cards, All I Need, Videotape and 4 Minute Warning, where practically nothing happens for a very long time.
Today’s Kids and Their Not-Particularly-Loud Music! Why, in MY Day…
One claim that can be made is that Radiohead have matured and evolved beyond the need for “childish” excitement; that their new sterile sound is preferable to the overcrowded and noisy arrangements of past albums. I like to think that I am a musically open and adventurous listener, but perhaps I’m more conservative and nostalgic than I’d like to think. Maybe Radiohead are much tuned in to what this generation likes, and I’m the one who is behind on the times. Perhaps much like most of their veteran fans, I don’t really want my heroes to change all that much, and I secretly wish that they’d make the same music they made when they were in their 20s, in a twisted attempt to gain eternal youth and immortality.
But after listening to The King of Limbs over a dozen times, my conclusion is clear: much like with In Rainbows, Radiohead are just not as exciting as they used to be. Perhaps this is what growing older and becoming an adult is all about – you no longer get super-excited about things and everything seems dimmer and less meaningful.
Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up, the fourth studio album by alternative progressive band Oceansize has a heavier tone but manages to reintroduce the band’s skillful songwriting style, packed neatly in thick guitar soundscapes and clever stereo manipulations.
This might sound weird coming from a member of a prog-rock band, but when I first read that Oceansize’s Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up was going to be “fifteen songs, all under four minutes”, I was genuinely excited.
An Introduction to My Oceansize Experience
When I first heard Oceansize’s first album, Effloresce, I really liked its classic ‘The Bends’ alternative rock sound, only it came with a more vigorous approach. I listened to it a lot, though it didn’t scale as a top album at first.
When Everything Into Position was released, I got it and listened to it a few times, thinking it was nice. I told Opher about it, without making much of a fuss about it. “Oceansize have a new album out” is pretty much all I said.
Then a few weeks later Opher said he had been listening to the album and that it was awesome. So I gave Everything Into Position another listen. All of the sudden, I rediscovered the amazing and rich musical world that is Oceansize. I consumed both albums repeatedly, savoring the music over and over again, always finding out something new.
This band was giving me everything I ever wanted in music: a dynamite sound with sharp guitars, a good versatile vocalist and compositions that are both intelligent and emotionally driven. What was so great about them was the fact that they were able to produce complex prog-like riffs and compositions, but it sounded like they weren’t even trying to do that. Only after dozens of listens to Effloresce did I even notice that many of the songs sported odd time signatures. This was refreshing compared to all those Neo-Prog bands that have been dragging 7/8 into the ground in the past 30 years, creating what we in the “scene” call a Progressive Rock Cliché.
And then, came Frames. I was concerned that Oceansize would become too self-conscious by the great artistic and critical accomplishments of Everything Into Position, and when it was released, I felt like that’s exactly what had happened.
Frames still had the great sound and powerful performance that an Oceansize fan would expect, and it did have some great moments, but to me it felt like the natural complex compositions were gone, and were replaced by songs that sounded like very long sessions. It was as if in the past, they just wrote songs that sounded proggy, but when they became aware that they’re actually playing progressive rock they panicked and started trying too hard to keep up with themselves and ended making the same mistakes that rookie neo-prog bands do.
Don’t get me wrong, Frames was definitely not a flop. It does have some great moments, exciting riffs and an amazing sound. It wasn’t a huge disappointment like every Mars Volta album released after De-Loused in the Comatorium. But it did have 10 minute long instrumentals that took forever to get to nowhere, like “An Old Friend of the Christies”. The album’s opener, Commemorative 9/11 T-Shirt (awesome title btw), featured the same 11/8 time signature used on the Charm Offensive to open Everything Into Position, except that on the Charm Offensive, it actually went somewhere, instead of repeating the same riff for three and a half minutes before actually starting the song.
My, that was a Long introduction; let’s get to the actual review, shall we?
So anyway, after an album with songs that lasted for over eight minutes for no apparent reason, the fact that the band even joked about producing an all-four-minute-song album was a hint that they’ve seen the error of their mistake, and are now ready to return to their roots.
As with all Oceansize albums, it took a while to get used to it. Even as I was writing this review, I was listening to parts of Frames and telling myself “hey, this is actually not that bad after all.” So Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up took some time to sink in, as any album with profound music and lyrics does.
At first it sounded like the band was burrowing deeper into their Meshuggah influences. After a few full listens, it became evident that this was only partially true. The heavy songs were much heavier, but that didn’t reflect on the lighter songs, nor did it cause them to feel unrelated to the feel of the album. That’s the sign of a really good band: when it can slap a progressive death metal assault next to a slow, mellow ballad, and still sound like the same band.
The album’s sound is very warm and concise, with a rich analog feel to it. The guitars sound like they were played out of king-size high-end amps, the mix is sharp and clear, the arrangements are well balanced, allowing you to hear every single instrument (or at least, so it sounds, maybe there are more layers of guitars hiding somewhere).
The album also includes some very interesting stereo manipulations, which at first I felt were a bit redundant, but after getting to know the songs I learned to appreciate them. Silent / Transparent begins with very eclectic drumming, and the extreme panning stood out so much that at first it made feel like they were artificially trying to cover up the lack of originality in the songwriting with some technical tricks. But then I decided it wasn’t the case, so stop writing that hate mail.
Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up is not without its faults, though. There’s still an excessive use of consistent patterns, which generates a certain sense of repetitiveness, lacking the rich composition style of Everything into Position. Some redundant moments like the 3 minute long postlude on Oscar Acceptance Speech, which does sound very nice but lasts for way too long, and the over-the-top metal extravaganza of It's My Tail and I'll Chase It If I Want To.
The last two songs, Pine and SuperImposter, are quite reminiscent of the band’s “old style”. I love the sound of their spacey effect-drenched guitars, combined with Mike Vennart’s smooth, relaxing and yet somehow at the same time haunting and disturbing voice. These two songs make an excellent ending for a somewhat unbalanced album.
Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up shows that Oceansize still has a lot to offer. It’s not their best album, but once again, it’s not their worst album either (seriously, that Mars Volta album was horrible.) I’m looking forward to hear more from the band, as even on their worst day, Oceansize still kicks the collective asses of most of the bands that operate in today’s “New Prog” scene. I’m hoping to fly out of the country sometime and make it to at least one of their shows before it is too late, like in the case of the Cooper Temple Clause.
1. They believe we exist 3:43
2. Die for us 5:25
3. It Is 23:53
4. Piece of cake 4:05
5. Flirting with hope 1:41
6. Five to dusk 3:12
7. Candy Rehab 1:36
8. All of the above 1:28
Here's another release that I completely forgot to mention even though I had knowledge of it for a very long time. I met Yuval Aviguy, founding member of Teliof, a few years ago. He was experimenting with home recordings, composing a lot of interesting stuff and playing all the instruments on his own (except for the ones programmed, of course). The only problem was that he didn't really like the sound of his own voice (even though he has a very healthy, bass voice), and he was looking for a singer. I recorded vocals for one of his songs, and later on he would produce a song I wrote called She's Got Grace.
Time passed and Yuval started recording a real studio album, which eventually gave birth to the band, Teliof. At some point, he sent me an instrumental recording and asked if I could write some lyrics for it. We both agreed that the nature of the music indicated this should be a happy song about a murderous tyrant. I based the lyrics loosely on Genesis's The Knife and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's The Creature. Here is the final result:
Die for Us - by Teliof
We bow down to your grace and glory
We are bound by the fear you incite
We are all in love with your lies and
We wish you an eternal life
Will you give your life
For the sacred cause of it all?
Words are not enough
Will you die for life?
Praise your thoughtfulness
We are yours to
Sell or buy
We're nothing at all
Last night a nomad arrived in our town
Claiming that he knew the truth
He told us we all have been taken for fools
But we had our ears shut
We tore at his flesh and we hung him up high
Set him on fire at dawn
Your honor must never be doubted in any way
Your honor is all we have
I'm a simple honest man
There is nothing that I can do
Listen to my people say:"We love you"
All I do is for you
It's time to say a prayer
"You are our god"
Master has told us of monsters outside
Monsters that wish to do harm
He took all our children
So we could sleep safe at night
He is divine and just
Our houses are crumbling we have nothing left
It's all a part of the plan!
One day he'll return And bring back all the glory
We must believe its right!
I'm a simple human being
Just as weak as the next guy
It was never my plan, No!
"We all love you"
I didn't want to lead at all
It was always, their own choice!
We are proud to serve as your army
We will shed our morals for you
"All are sleeping"- I must escape, must get out of this town
This self made detention I have to break and be gone
"All he wanted" - Peace for my people and freedom for me
Now there's no salvation - Now there Is no horizon to seek
Hear hear! Wake up!
Our Master is gone – Was he taken from us?
Our cruel foes will pay for this!
Fight them we must. We’ll crush them to dust.
Ready the troops Bury our youth!
"We are willing to give you our youth"
We will hunt down those who have taken him
We will skin their children alive
We will not return to our home until
It's all right not to think for ourselves
Will you give your life
for the sacred cause of it all?
Words are not enough Will you die - for us?
Say, Will you die for us?
Most of the tracks on Is it? are instrumental. There are two other songs with actual words on the album, but they're not nearly as long as this one, as it contains lyrics almost all throughout its 5:25 run. I particulary like the song called Piece of Cake, where Yuval talks about how much he sucks as writing lyrics. I thought it was very amusing.
Throughout the years, I've heard bits and pieces of Teliof's music, but never listened to the album as a whole. When I attended the launch concert last week, it threw me off a bit. There was so much information, it made me feel a bit intimidated and it was really hard to follow. But after listening to the album and attending a second concert this week at the Third Ear in Raanana, I can say that I sort of get what's on there now. Either way, Teilof's Is It? is a great accomplishment, a wonderfully crafted, well played and arranged musical masterpiece. Definitely one of the most impressive Israeli albums ever to be released, progressive rock or otherwise. It is a true combination between rock and classical music, and it frequently sends me off wondering "how the hell does he come up with this stuff?"