Radiohead, In Rainbows: A Review, Upon First Listen, Track-by-Track Style

You know, Radiohead, I was just about to go to sleep when I checked my email one last time. And lo and behold, the download code for your new CD, In Rainbows, popped up in my inbox. *sigh* I didn't need sleep anyway.

Since the rest of the blogosphere is racing right now to review Rainbows, I figure I'd be a sheep and do the same thing. Let's do a time-lapse chronicle of the proceedings. First listens, of course. While addled by fatigue. And I haven't checked YouTube or bootleg sites for which of these songs have been released before, so excuse me if some of this is old news. (I saw Radiohead in a high school auditorium in 1997, so I have cred.)

12:30 a.m.: Link shows up. Among the technical mumbo jumbo is the phrase: WE HOPE YOU ENJOY 'IN RAINBOWS'.

12:37 a.m. Zip file downloaded and unzipped. Fire up iTunes!

12:43 a.m. Fire up iTunes, take two. Had to get some carrots and water.

12:45 a.m. "15 Step" is the first song. Drum-n-bass beat that goes right into a curling guitar riff that's very "Paranoid Android"-style minimalist. Thom Yorke's sounding theatrical. Ooh, now his vocals feature some cool echoes soon after two minutes, things get very glitchy and staticky, but cinematic -- like a staticky television. Children(?) are heard crying in the background, sorta like a muted Go! Team song. Spooky organ outro. Overall could be an outtake from Yorke's solo record, and also very Amnesiac.

12:49 a.m. "Bodysnatchers." Holy crap, it's Sonic Youth. Super fuzzy, driving guitar and Yorke monotone singing, a la Thurston Moore. "I've no idea what I'm talking about," Yorke howls, in his upper, Wayne Coyne-like register. Wordless howling, as the music bends and builds around him, with some corrugated riffs layered atop the driving noise. Oh man, I bet this song is insane live.

12:52 a.m. A bit after two minutes, a bridge emerges, with guitar that's totally still SY's Dirty. Yorke's chanting; he's singing too fast for me to type. Yorke mumbles "ma ma ma ma ma ma" at the end -- you can just picture him shaking his head back and forth in that spastic way he does -- as clicking drums and then a huge wall of psych-distorto guitar ends the song. Awesome.

12:53 a.m. "Nude." Quiet strings rise up, as Yorke croons like an elderly ghost, and trip-hop beats throb. Is he saying, "Don't get bitter"? Keyboards pipe in now, somber keyboards, a la "Talk Show Host." This is totally a slow jam, albeit a haunted waltz in a cobweb-filled parlor.

12:56 a.m. Ooh, at 2:37, a big huge crescendo of strings. Yorke amps up the creaky crooning; one can picture him wearing a faded, dusty tuxedo, singing "Send in the Clowns" or something. Sad, mournful strings end the song -- vaguely Moby-ish.

12:57 a.m. Kind of a math-rocky beginning to "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi," insistent rhythms that are somewhat reminiscent of Minus the Bear, with plenty of warm keyboards boiling in the background. The first song I feel really moved by: Yorke sings, "Why should I istay here? Why should I stay? I would be crazy not to fall / Fall where you lead" (Is he saying leave?) Your eyes / They turn me."

1 a.m. Oh MAN this song is amazing. Now there are counter-harmonies around 2:30, and the song is building, ever so deliciously -- the rhythms are louder, the keys are louder and Yorke's coming to a conclusion. "I get eaten by the worm / And we're fishes / We're fishes," he says, suddenly turning into Jacques Cousteau. (I only mean this half-jokingly, as he sounds under water at this point.)

1:02 a.m. Suddenly the song is darker, more ominous -- like someone diving down into the depths of the ocean. That same rhythm from the start is slightly off, submerged -- riffing guitars, shimmering keys, clanging percussion. Awesome. First great song on the album.

1:05 a.m. "All I Need." Okay, so, this percussion sample totally makes me want to start singing Sublime's "What I Got." It's the kickdrum and the loping tempo, sue me. Very murky keys, ridged by some spooky, space-age, Gary Numan-like work. "I'm an animal, trapped in your hot car." (Did he really just say that?) "I'm in the middle of your picture."

1:07 a.m. Okay, there's some pretty xylophone now. "I'm an insect, just trying to get out..." and Yorke trails off. He's mumbling quite a bit on this album, hiding. The synths are joined by some clattering and static in the background -- all impeccably tasteful, despite the noise. "You're all I need, I'm in the middle of your picture." Oooh, some unexpected piano and crashing drums just came in, a minute from the end. Excellent. Yorke goes off into one of his wordless, huge croons. Fantastic ending. Makes me want to revisit the song again. On a roll.

1:09 a.m. "Faust Arp." Acoustic guitar, multi-layered Yorke vocal lines looping over one another, strings. Very majestic and regal, very orchestral -- but yet sort of Krautrock. Campfire Krautrock, cause of the guitars and cinematic strings. Very simple, but emotionally effective -- even if I have no idea what this song is about just yet.

1:11 a.m. "Reckoner." Sounds like Primal Scream's "Trainspotting" at the start, all factory-clanks and dank-underground percussion clashes. Yorke's in full-on falsetto mode here. The clanking is still going on, sounds like a factory. Good contrast, some delicate piano just came in, right below Yorke's doubled vocals. He sounds like an old woman, or like PJ Harvey on her new disc.

1:13 a.m. The surround-sound on this song is truly stunning -- right speaker has some salt-shaking percussion going on, left has the same stuff from the start. Oh wow more strings -- and they're darting and dipping and resolving their chords, similar to "Lucky." The dual-speaker clanking starts up again; I'm totally nodding my head. Yorke's still crooning; it's all very beautiful and very sad, although I can't pinpoint why.

1:16 a.m. "House of Cards." The simple guitar riff makes me want to sing Dinosaur Jr.'s "Start Choppin'" for some reason. Yorke (or someone) is in the corner mewling; now he's singing in the forefront, but still sounds like he's coming from down a long hallway, lots of echo. "I dont' want to be you friend / I just want to be your lover." (Holy crap, it's totally a Blackstreet song.) "Forget about your house and cars / [something muffled, unintelligible and obviously pivotal]." Dammit, Thom!

1:18 a.m. "Fall off the table, guess..." I give up. Strings again, some tick-tock beats, some roaring keys. Again, the production on this CD is beautiful -- crystal-clear, impeccable, even at high volumes. There are dynamics on the CD -- peaks and valleys, subtle silence and louder sections that are all pleasing to the ear. Even at 160 kbps. "Throw your keys in the bowl, kiss your husband goodnight / Forget about your house of cards / And I'll do mine." Later on: "Denial." I get it: The song's about how suburbia's perfect facade can crumble easily, right? And how Edward Scissorhands/Stepford Wives, etc. can't deal with it. Song's ending, all very creepy. It's a story-song. A bit too long, but okay.

1:22 a.m. "Jigsaw Falling Into Place." Yeah, that strummy guitar that's like "Paranoid Android." Which gets more forceful, driven by thick, strong beats -- also like that single. Yorke's humming atop the music -- like the band was looping his voice. He's back to his normal voice now, almost speak-singing, slam-poetry over the loops and riffs.

1:24 a.m. Cool distorto-bridge again, with some nifty guitar work. It's a lot louder now, there's a zippy guitar in the back. "The beat goes round and round," Yorke creaks. Instruments slip in, and you barely notice -- more insistent drums, cool guitar effects. Okay, a cool, almost jangly, psychedelic-pop bridge here -- sort of sounds like parallel-universe R.E.M. Matched by strings, and Yorke in his quirky croon. Those four minutes flew by; I need to listen again. Probably the poppiest thing on the album so far, even if, er, not much was discernible.

1:27 a.m. Last song, "Videotape." Just piano and voice. "When I'm at the Pearly Gates / This will be on the videotape, the videotape." Still spartan and sparse, Yorke somber in his singing. 1:25 in, a clap-trap rhythm starts in, like a clomping horse, and some gospel-hymn humming choir in the background.

1:29 a.m. This sounds like the soundtrack of someone heading for the gallows, or on a knowing death march. Could fit right in, again, on the new PJ Harvey album.

1:31 a.m. Oh, this is cool: Lots of percussion coming in from all sides, creating some unsettling rhythms and counter-rhythms -- but arranged very cleanly, so it doesn't sound chaotic, just unsettling. A stuttering hi-hat clatters, along with what sounds like someone swinging an axe in the right speaker. All above the piano.

1:32 a.m. And with that, it's over. Huh.

On this cursory listen, I already like this album more than Hail to the Thief. There's a quiet sadness and mournfulness to the music, less unnecessary noise and extravagance. It's a more welcoming, open album, without being poppy. It's hard to describe, since it's, well, Radiohead. It's not willfully weird, it sounds much more linear and straightforward -- but yet not pandering to any sort of modern conventions. Much more clicky, so yes, very reminiscent of Yorke's The Eraser. And much more rhythmic and keyboard-based, definitely few full-on guitar hooks. Heck, there's not a traditional "single" on here for radio.

It's like a treasure box of antiques, perhaps, or an old junk shop: There are lots of little quirky elements that will require multiple listens to uncover, lots of disparate elements thrown together, but so fleetingly that you can't really say they've ripped people off (well, besides themselves).

I want to listen again -- more important, I'm intrigued. It doesn't leave me cold; it didn't stab me in the heart the way Band of Horses just did. But there's a quiet, understated beauty to it that's welcoming and makes me want to explore more.

Okay, bedtime. Let the Googling begin as I post this!

-- Annie Zaleski