About The Pennds

The Pennds is: Jared Rosenberg, Steve Waye, Andrew Bielen & Charlie Isaacs.

Mission Statement: The Pennds explores Radiohead from an academic perspective. We go beyond notions of active listening in favor of involved perception, in order to better understand the band's work. We do not assign superlatives; in fact we challenge those that exist. Using the framework of discourse, we aim not to pin down the essence of Radiohead, but rather to set free that concept, to give it pliable spirit.

Special Thanks to Al Filreis for making this (and so much more) possible.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Where language fails, Radiohead succeed: alienation and music

As the resident "fresh listener" of the class, I thought it would be worthwhile to post immediately about my first experience of truly listening to the work of Radiohead. I went through their two first albums, Pablo Honey and The Bends, which apparently represent the foundation of their fame, the LP's that provided them with enough commercial success to experiment and transcend genre and convention later on in their career. Even though I have yet to delve into the alleged complexities of OK Computer and Kid A, I found both albums to be influential on both an conscious and unconscious level. For some reason, not sure how, Radiohead evokes a sense of alienation in their music. Everyone who ever felt misunderstood or driven from a norm or disappointed can connect with their music. I suppose it's an observation that many have had, but what I find unique about the alienation appeal is the strange combat of forces for listeners. We connect with the sense of alienation, and yet, alienation in itself requires us to establish a personal, private relationship with the music. The bond each fan has with Radiohead is unique and unprecedented and based on both Radiohead and the listener's personal narrative.

In high school, we all undergo a torment and turbulence of changing feelings, confusions, hormones, and psychological conflicts as we struggle with our becoming who we are. My mother used to tell me when I was upset about something I could not label or name, that, "Everyone is going through this feeling at your age..." And I hated hearing that. But she was absolutely right; I was simply so held up in my own struggle, but the point is, my own struggle is a personal, internal struggle. I cannot look to other examples, because I am within the confines of my own evolving mental and ontological arena. I believe the average fan (or Cult Follower) of Radiohead is someone stuck in that similar conflict of harnessing a wavelength he or she very much considers to be the first thing that ever happened in the history of the world, when really, and consequently, we all fall into the wavelength.

When reading about the personalities of Radiohead, I thought I discovered a group of people that spoke, acted, and thought like me, and conversed like me. I said to myself, 'Finally, evidence that someone out there can join me in the tension of the paradox of living via inner monologue passing into dialogue, the ADD stream of consciousness that involves the unpredictable juxtaposition of images and feelings and considerations, and everyone else will try to interpret the poetic musings of my mind when really there is only one statement to be made: disorder in the order, order in the disorder, and disorder in the order. All analytic dissections of my thoughts, or Radiohead's table conversations, or Radiohead's music, are silly and problematic as they all are in hindsight, and they all are never to understand the infinitesimal moment when the thought or note or key or lyric comes out.

And that is the connection I harvest. And that is the connection so many others harvest. We harvest together, yet I am the farmer of my own land, and I cannot see into any other land. Radiohead drags us with them, as their narrative search and introspective exploration parallels and mirrors ours. The paths might appear different, but the pace is the same, the obscurity in the curving of the road is the same, and the purpose is the same.

So why am I so not ready to accept such a connection with anyone else, but with Radiohead, the link is readily available? Perhaps Radiohead has the courage to truly express the angst and alienation. Or perhaps the language of alienation cannot come in the form of diary-like confessions but rather in the form of musical sound, sound that is spatial and curious and uncertain. Maybe the music of Radiohead represents the gaps in our language. Language has failed us. Language has failed to encompass everything we were designed to express. The strange compounds of sounds and words discovered by Radiohead are what we need to express alienation. And that is where the tension resides and the sense of non-belonging abounds.

I will not be surprised if my thoughts change, but this is my initial hunch.
- Charlie


  1. I think that this is a really interesting point that you are making about how the two albums make you feel alienated, which is something that I feel almost all of their music express (at least up until In Rainbows), whether directly by lyrics (I mean c'mon, "Creep" pretty much smacks you in the face with alienation repeatedly), or at least in some sort of ethereal feeling achieved by the music composition that sometimes feels like it is just crawling under your skin.

    Something that I really think is great about Radiohead is that each album (to me at least) feels like it is expressing a different feeling. Even Amnesiac and Kid A, which both SOUND extremely similar (Amnesiac is just the "rejects" from Kid A) to me at least FEEL different. For everybody that connection to the music is different and what the feeling that is almost being projected onto oneself is different, but the thing that I think stays the same is the fact that a feeling is DEFINITELY being projected.

    As a huge Radiohead fan myself (they have got to be my favorite band), I think that the albums that connect, to me at least, the most are Kid A and In Rainbows (in my opinion those are the best), but I guess I'll have to wait for you to listen to those to give my opinions.

    Something that I think is interesting a stroke of irony is that even though it evokes for you a sense of alienation, to achieve that feeling a deep connection had to be made, or vice versa; by feeling alienated, you feel connected! It's sort of like the idea that one feels that you are the only one having a certain problem(as a highschooler I completely agree), but even if that is true everybody is feeling that, making you the same as them by being unique.

    I hope everything that I said is clear! Can't wait for more from this blog!
    --Sam Wolk

    P.S. I'll hit up a link to your blog in mine!
    Kid A/In Rainbows for life!

  2. Sam - you are correct to say that while Kid A and Amnesiac are similar in sound (the tracks were all recorded in the same sessions), each album has its own attitude. Where you are wrong: Amnesiac is hardly composed of Kid A "rejects" - it is more stable, a bit more aggressive and less erratic, for the most part (of course there are moments where it is extremely disjointed). Its elements have a different character than those of Kid A, and for that reason, it needed its own release. In many ways Amnesiac is a stronger album than Kid A.


  3. Not being a RadioheadHead myself, Charlie, I can't say I quite follow your logic in the argument contending a qualitatively different status for this group. Look hard at your phrase "truly express"--and figure out what it means to conclude that other expressions-through-art do not or cannot "truly" express. You concede that it's a matter of aesthetic judgment, anyway, when you liken it to adolescent alone-feeling ("Am I the only one who...?").

  4. Weeks have passed, and I have found that these two albums do fall back in memory a bit, not so profoundly and importantly salient among a crowd of music groups uttering the same message. But, the message from these two albums gains more momentum and transforms and takes new dimension with OK Computer and then with Kid A and Amnesiac. In a way, I feel like Pablo Honey and The Bends gets us all on board, but it's very in between 2d and 3d. OK Computer and onwards, I feel the extraction of the meaning in the music, new dimensions.