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.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Kid A & Amnesiac

“They are separate because they cannot run in a straight line with each other.  They cancel each other out as overall finished things... In some weird way, I think Amnesiac gives another take on Kid A, a form of explanation."

The albums Kid A and Amnesiac are often thought of as conjoined twins.  Though released separately, each album's songs were recorded in the same sessions.  The fact that Radiohead did not release any singles for Kid A (and therefore no B-Sides), and came out with Amnesiac only a year later has led many to believe that Amnesiac is a collection of the Kid A B-Sides.  But why would Radiohead release an entire album's worth of B-Sides?  To cash in on what was left over from the intense Kid A sessions?  Hardly likely.  Radiohead is never out to make a quick buck.  Their work is deliberate, their approach to an album meticulous.  Everything from where to record, when, how, track order, album artwork, even the method of releasing the album (Amnesiac came packaged in a book...) is planned, down to the last detail. It is feasible, though, that given the amount of effort and strife that went into recording Kid A - by many accounts, differences in opinion pushed the band to nearly irreconcilable altercations - the band didn't want to let the remaining songs (an entire album's worth) just sit around.

If that is not the case, then the question is "why not release a double album?"  If these albums complement each other, why shouldn't they come together?  The problem with a double release for these two is that while they have a very similar thematic focus, the perspectives are so vastly different that they deserve their own space.  Amnesiac is not an epilogue to Kid A's distant observation of an apocalyptic scene; it is a retelling, from the center of that scene.  This difference in the locus of perspective is the key to understanding why, despite the cotemporality of their creation, Kid A and Amnesiac are as different as OK Computer and The Bends.

On Kid A, Radiohead ditched the traditional guitar/bass/drums lineup, choosing instead to use enough electronics to rival NASA headquarters: synths, samples, drum machines, the list goes on and on.  If the jump from The Bends to OK Computer was astonishing, then OK Computer and Kid A are separated by lightyears.  And yet, despite the sudden change of approach, there is as much traditional musical influence as there is unorthodox.  Syncopated jazz beats underscore sun-beam synthesizers.  You are as likely to find soaring violins as you are mechanistic drum machine beats. The synergy between musical styles is truly amazing.

Kid A tells of a coming apocalypse.  Although the album's opening track is titled "Everything In Its Right Place", we can immediately take this for some good old Thom Yorke irony - the song is completely disjointed: a quirky time signature, chopped and distorted vocals, enigmatic lyrics.  In the world of Kid A everything is, in fact, in quite the wrong place.  There is something not right in this world, and it all becomes clear in "Idioteque", a song best described as a dance party for the apocalypse.  "Idioteque" summarizes Kid A right in the middle of the album - full of hissing clicks, deep thudding bass beats that slip in and out of different time signatures, this song more than any other shows the heavy influence of electronic music a la Aphex Twin on Kid A.  The vocals describe the imagery on the album cover - "Ice age comin, ice age comin".  The song is chaotic, erratic and yet coy.  The paranoid doomsayer warns of the end, yet finds it so funny that he will "laugh until my head falls off", and later suggests we "take the money and run" - an interesting solution to the impending ice age. 

But while Kid A is the story from afar, Amnesiac is told from the midst of the disaster.  Perhaps the video for "Pyramid Song" best sums up the attitude of Amnesiac - a lone, digitally ambiguous and colorless survivor swims amongst a sunken industrial city.  The song itself is slow and melancholy, its lyrics chillingly describe experiencing the hereafter: "Jumped in the river what did I see? / Black-eyed angels swam with me"

Still, Amnesiac is not album of one mood.  It is, at times, as erratic as it is, at others, calm - from the  clangs and blips of "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box" and mulchy rhythmic patterns of "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors", to the time-signature-less piano wanderings of "Pyramid Song", Amnesiac suffers from manic-depression.  But its calmer moments suggest that, despite the disastrous end to the world, there is some peace in the hope of future.

We must remember that none of this thematic exploration would have been possible on either album, had Radiohead not taken the extreme risk of shifting their style.  Unrestricted by the limitations of traditional band structure, Radiohead was able to craft individual sounds.  Every minute detail of every fraction of a moment on both Kid A and Amnesiac was tweakable, and the result is precise chaos.



  1. Great article, but as a side note Pyramid Song is in 4/4.

  2. An interesting take on Kid A and Amnesiac... and I love the wording there at the end: "precise chaos" indeed.