Hey, have I ever told you about how much I like Radiohead?
Last week began with Arcade Fire – Merge Records loyalists, defenders of the underground, ambassadors of all that is Right and Just in the music business — winning the most mainstream, ridiculous award there is.
It ended with a new Radiohead album to obsess over — a specialty of mine for about 14 (!) years now.
Too much input! Too much input! Ahhh!
Of course, the Grammys are meaningless. I know this, you know this. Arcade Fire’s, uh, peers in the Album of the Year category included Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. Last year’s Album of the Year winner? Taylor Swift. She’s talented enough, but it’s hard to imagine anyone over 17 elevating Fearless to high art.
In fact, the Grammys are so meaningless that I was a bit disturbed that we were in perfect alignment on The Suburbs – my pick for album of the year as well.
What gives, man? Does this mean indie rock has triumphed over the corporate variety? Does it mean that the alternative revolution – which began in earnest nearly 30 years ago – has effectively beheaded the king?
Or does it say more about me, and where I’m at as music fan barreling toward 30?
Mostly, I think it’s just another landmark in the ever-churning media-consumption evolution. There’s a great ongoing series in the Onion’s pop-culture arm, A.V. Club. It’s called “Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation?” and it’s written by the fantastic Steven Hyden. Much like me, he was in the inevitable position of growing up a music snob in a small town. (There were no record stores in Iron Mountain, Mich., population 8,000 or so. Hell, we were excited when we got a Wal-Mart). For me, “Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation” is practically a walk down Penny Lane — his story could be mine.
It wasn’t easy to procure good music back then. There was no iTunes or Pandora. File-sharing was in its infancy. I had to go to Green Bay to get my hands on the latest Sub Pop release.
Like Sam Colt and his revolver, it’s no secret that the Internet has leveled the playing field for musicians. Arcade Fire knows this better than most – an exuberant 2004 Pitchfork Media review of their debut album Funeral was instrumental in their breakthrough.
But at this point, it’s difficult to look at Arcade Fire as an indie band. They’re not on a major label, and they certainly don’t have the fan base of an Eminem or a Justin Bieber. But they’re everywhere – filling up the space in blogs and tweets, licensing their music to Super Bowl commercials (it was for charity, OK?!) and selling out the biggest venues in the world.
If it was released today, would In the Aeroplane Over the Sea win a Grammy? How about Slanted and Enchanted? Probably not, but I don’t think it’s out of the question. They would almost certainly be embraced by a much larger, much more plugged-in fanbase than that which existed in the mid-90s – a support structure that would have marketed their music in efficient and effective ways.
It’s not much different than that DIY spirit that birthed the alternative movement, right? Anyway, I still think The Suburbs is the best album of the year – and like always, Arcade Fire did it the right way.
Speaking of bands that do it the right way, HOLY SHIT RADIOHEAD RELEASED A NEW ALBUM LAST WEEK ;LJKASJLKAS;;SDAJL;FJKLASDJDKFALJK;DF
Radiohead! For me, a new Radiohead album is an event – oddly enough, one that comes with an exploration of past and mortality. This band has so prominently sign-posted my life that it’s impossible not to look back — and to realize that with each new release there’s that much more to consider.
OK Computer? The fascination and terror of late adolescence. My bedroom in my parent’s house. The Internet and all the new horizons it represented. Kid A? It was released just a few months into my college career, man. Unsuccessfully trying to entice girls into my dorm by blaring “Idioteque” (“Hey baby, wanna see my Thom Yorke dance?”). Listening under the influence. Learning about Charlie Mingus and Can. Amnesiac? Let’s just say it came just in time for my first real long-term adult relationship and all the heavy, heavy shit that brings.
And so on. Each song brings memories real and vivid, often accompanied by that knot in your stomach that says, “These are things that happened in your past; you can’t ever go back.”
I’m 29 now. There’s nothing particularly significant about turning 30 – in fact, I’ve heard lots of people live interesting, productive lives even into their 40s! But it is a time to reflect, to look ahead, and yes – to worry a tiny bit about the future.
For the record, I really like The King of Limbs. I love how ballsy it is. I love the electro-jazz clusterfuck of “Bloom” and “Feral,” the robot-soul of “Little by Little” and “Lotus Flower,” the Talking Heads-esque “Morning Mr. Magipie” and “Separator,” and the holy-fuck-that’s-beautiful-in-that-way-only-Radiohead-can-do of “Codex” and “Giving up the Ghost.”
I didn’t like it at first, to be honest. But that’s the great thing about being a Radiohead fan – they always drag you in kicking and screaming before soothing you into acceptance. Always moving, always one step ahead.
I’m moving too – with one significant change in the immediate future and others, always, on the horizon. At least I know what I’ll be listening to.