Any study of the Radiohead phenomenon offers certain challenges. First, Radiohead can only be compared to Radiohead, as the laws binding the rest of the current pop kingdom just don't seem to apply to these wan and artsy Englishmen. Second, no review of any Radiohead album will convince non-believers--or dissuade fanatics from buying the fresh product.
So with all this in mind, here is a brief primer on the band's work so far, including the just-released Amnesiac:
Beginning Radiohead: Neophytes should grab a basic album, OK Computer or The Bends, before moving on to Radiohead's Intermediate and Advanced levels.
Intermediate Radiohead: Amnesiac does not rock. Though highly anticipated as Radiohead's new rock album, it is, more accurately, Kid A's slightly more well-adjusted older brother. Vibrating with the same brave experimental energy as Kid A but free of that album's abstractions, Amnesiac is more listenable and diverse, full of vocal effects and a nearly schizophrenic vacillation between styles. Especially on the solid remake of Kid A's "Morning Bell," this album manages to be simultaneously more sensible and more ethereal than the band's previous recordings.
Advanced Radiohead: Amnesiac is the third chapter in the grand conceptual trilogy that began with OK Computer. That first leg of the odyssey finds singer Thom Yorke and his boys at the end of their existential rope, mapping the deepest pits of human despair with deft hands. In Chapter 2, Kid A, a baby alien/android is thrown into an earthly existence, unable to cope, capable only of abstractions and longing for home.
Now comes the adjustment period: Amnesiac. More melodic and less distraught, Amnesiac chronicles the beauty of acclimation to a foreign world. Even though the surface emotions are less dire, the melancholy of losing and forgetting home burbles through the album's undercurrent--this is Radiohead, after all, still a unique and weepy beast. (SOS)
Though this class was free, lessons will resume at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Wash., 224-4400. 7:30 pm Saturday, June 23. Tuition is $39.95 (Ticketmaster).
THE ALBUM LEAF: ONE DAY I'LL BE ON TIME (Tiger Style)
A solo project from Tristeza's Jimmy LaValle.
Remember that scene from American Beauty, the one with the videotape of the plastic bag blowing in the wind? Remember how it made you feel? Made you oddly sad, didn't it? Why had you forgotten to appreciate the beauty in everyday life? Why had you allowed your trivial pursuits and meaningless standards to blind you to your own insignificance? Didn't the wind's way with the bag make you feel simultaneously small and inspired?
One Day I'll Be On Time invokes the same kind of beautiful depression and gloomy revelation. With thought-provoking orchestration and intricate string arrangements, this instrumental solo project from Tristeza's Jimmy LaValle is moving. Feeling like a soundtrack to your dreams, this is music to get lost to. The mesmerizing layers of guitar, bass, drum samples and keyboard (all played by LaValle) gracefully whisk you away from the world's center. The dreary and delicate floating music forces you to submerge yourself in sleepy deep thought and questioning. Life is beautiful--but don't even get me started on that one. (JT)
The Album Leaf plays at Medicine Hat (1834 NE Alberta St., 778-7700) on Thursday, June 21. 9 pm. Cover.
MICROREVIEWS: Big Mistake Factory, clever title of the latest from the Austin quartet Fivehead, accurately illustrates the album's content. Muttering and yammering male vocals meet vestiges from a vintage variety show, misled Appalachian fiddle standards muddling with incestuous power-pop rip-offs. On the other hand, the St. Paul band Walter Kong couldn't be more clear on There Goes the Sun, its new album on Portland's Magic Marker Records. While this modest pop--clean treble, wallows in nostalgia, merry chiming--threatens to induce a coma now and then, it's not hard to see how it could work as a soundtrack to socializing and slight inebriation. Which explains why it's climbing Midwestern college radio charts. Speaking of the country's rusty heart, Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit is a compilation of songs about the Motor City by Sympathy Records bands. Like Detroit, the garage rock that dominates here has seen better days. Sludgy, schlocky, punk-rock shtick make this variety-pack an exhausting listen, a true ode to retro-shabby and the love of cheap beer. (RB)