New Music Tuesday

October is out of control. To open the month, there are going to be new CDs from Radiohead and Paul Simon coming out on the 3rd, and to close it out, the new U2 album comes out on the 31st. Does everyone else out there appreciate just how huge this is? These are the guys who get unlimited studio time, the ones who put out albums when they damn well feel like it, who live quietly out of the limelight for a few years and then show up with something new and all of a sudden a hush falls over the room as everyone looks at the tall fellow who just came striding into the saloon.

Simon's apparently going back to his immediately post-Garfunkel style, according to advance notices. For my money, this was his least amazing creative period: he did better work both before and after. But what has me a bit confused is that I thought I remembered him saying that he was done with regular albums after Rhythm of the Saints, and that he was going to close out his whole career with The Capeman. Apparently not, but I'm not complaining. U2 are also coming off what a lot of people think of as a disappointment, and returning to a more "classic" sound. They've released a single -- try the completely obvious web address if you want to hear it -- which purports to be their first single in N years. Which is a complete lie, if you happen to remember the web release of "Ground Beneath Her Feet" (lyrics by Salman Rushdie, somehow connected to his book of the same title) from the soundtrack to Wim Wenders' The Million Dollar Hotel. Man, did that one ever vanish from the radar screens. "Beautiful Day" is pretty catchy -- it definitely grows on you to the point where you're in danger of putting it on infinite repeat, as Scarius over at Shafted did.

Radiohead, though, are another matter. After OK Computer, which was amazingly unbelievably heartrendingly good, but definitely more than a little out there, as albums go, those irrepressibly depressed-seeming Brits holed up in a makeshift studio for a couple months and recorded enough songs to fill up both their forthcoming album, Kid A and a whole 'nother one, tentatively being planned for a spring release (plus, there are rumors they're about to go right back into the studio and record another one, which would double their extant work in something on the order of a year). From all indications, they filled up Kid A with all the uncommercial songs, and then dubbed, mixed, altered, arranged, and generally mutated the hell out of them to the point where they barely even sound like music from this planet. From early reports, it seemed like there were a couple distinct possibilities. One, they might have decided that they needed to prove some sort of existential legitimacy, much in the fashion of modern orchestral music. Two, they might be trying to royally screw over their record label. Three, it might all be a huge joke. Four, they could be trying to achieve whole new kinds of musical beauty by destroying and reinterpreting familiar forms.

Well, the BBC is streaming the album on demand through Friday of this week, so I went and gave it a listen today. And then I immediately gave it another one. And, given that it was a fourteen-hour day at work, I gave it two more over the course of the day. And, in my opinion at least, it's definitely possibility number four all the way, and they've pulled it off. Like OK Computer, the new album is of a pice: it coheres from start to finish, even though the songs vary a great deal. There are a lot of strange mixing tricks, some very odd arrangements, and some incredibly weird vocal distortions. The expressive range is restricted, the instrumental sounds are somehow confined to a very narrow range, even as they draw from all across the orchestra and the electronics rack. They've opened up the musical canvas in some new ways, even as they work with an extremely limited palette melodically and dynamically. And somehow, it works. The slightest changes in intensity, the crossfades and tempo changes, little twists of voice -- it all acquires a deep resonance somehow, becomes incredibly moving. You reach the end of it turned inside-out and listening to music in a new way. They're just putting together the available elements in imaginative new ways, and the result is evocative and emotionally draining. I have no idea how they did it, but somehow they did.