Welcome, one and all, to the first night of the second leg of the first C3X Tour! We're going to be visiting Victoria Park in London to see some excellent alternative bands play - including one very famous one.
But before the show starts later on, we're taking a trip down to the C3X Studio to witness some talented musicians laying down fresh tracks.
Blur - "Beetlebum" (yaniv297)
The theme of this duo-pack is original versions of songs that were only officially released as covers or live versions! First off, we have a track from the iconic 90s britpop band Blur - known for having a bit of a feud with a certain other britpop heavyweight - and whose frontman later went on to start Gorillaz. This track, the lead single from their 1997 self-titled album, was released as a cover version during the early days of Rock Band DLC (and was a bonus track on the European version of the game). Now you can finally play the original studio version of the song!
Old 97's - "Timebomb" (Kamotch)
So the original version of this song, officially released by Harmonix, was the live version from Old 97s' album Alive & Wired. While musically that version of the song is still solid, if a little sloppy, the vocals are extremely choppy. It happened to be the last song on a 30-song set, so I'll give them a pass on that one for not being 100%. But it did always disappoint me that I could never sing along properly to the song, so I took it unto myself to author the original version.
The guitar is pretty fun, but decently difficult. Bass is fairly simple, but also varied enough to stay interesting throughout. Drums keep a fast steady snare beat, with the accents charted to the yellow pad. When Harmonix charted the live version, they exclusively charted the accented hits, but I opted for the more difficult option, hence the devil-tier rating. It won't fail an experienced drummer, but it's not uncommon to break your streak. I'm usually a drummer myself, but I'd probably rather sing this one instead, considering the vocals were originally my motivation for charting the song in the first place. So yeah, vocals are fun. It's a fun song! Enjoy! (- Kamotch)
Here we are now at Victoria Park... looks like the show's about to start (despite the fact that this picture is in broad daylight when it should canonically be nighttime according to the ticket)! But before the headliner comes on to play, we have some great opening acts to enjoy. First up: Red House Painters!
Red House Painters - "Grace Cathedral Park" (yaniv297)
Mark Kozelek is a strange dude. An indie cult figure, and now well known as the frontman of Sun Kil Moon, his 2014 album Benji even got some mainstream success (even though IMO, it’s very far from his best album). And he generally quite lost it, including being involved in a one-sided public row with indie band The War on Drugs, which included him releasing a special song with the delicate title “War On Drugs: Suck My Cock."
But before all that, he was the frontman of one of the best, and most underappreciated bands of the 90’s – Red House Painters. Their music was usually slow, extremely emotional, personal and hard-hitting, and they had a golden run of records in the 90’s, including my favorite one, a self-titled album usually referred to as Rollercoaster because of the album cover. I’m very happy and excited to bring this band to Rock Band for the first time.
“Grace Cathedral Park” is the opening to this album, and it provides a great introduction to the album and this band. It’s fairly upbeat – by their standards, anyway - and includes interesting parts for all instruments, so it’s fun to play. And it’s also an extremely beautiful song, that’s widely regarded as one of the band’s classics, and just an amazing song. (- yaniv297)
The Beta Band - "Dry the Rain" (yaniv297)
The Beta Band are also quite a strange breed. Their style is described in Wikipedia as "'folktronica,' a blend of folk, Scottish, electronic, rock, trip hop, and experimental jamming” – and yes, this is as weird as it sounds. Through their career they’ve made several strange and wonderful records and songs, all extremely curious and creative. But really, one tune stands above them all.
“Dry the Rain” is one of those once-in-a-lifetime tunes. For me it’s a strong contender for the “best song of the 90’s." It starts of as a chilly, beautiful, folky tune with acoustic and slide guitars, than slowly evolves into a true epic. The song truly takes it up a gear around the 3:18 mark, where my favorite bassline in music history kicks in – and I’m not just saying that, I spent a solid 10 minutes looking for a bassline I liked better, and couldn’t find any. The bassline leads the song into an amazing climax, with horns, harmony vocals, and overall it’s just a beautiful thing.
The song gained a bit more attention after featuring in the 2000 movie High Fidelity – where John Cusack’s character announces “I will now sell five copies of The Three EPs by The Beta Band, before playing the climax of the song in his record store. The filmmakers knew why they chose that song – it’s a brilliant gem that’s still fairly unknown, and an absolutely brilliant piece of music. (- yaniv297)
Grandaddy - "The Crystal Lake" (yaniv297)
When looking for a fit opening band for Radiohead, really I couldn’t come up with a better fit than Grandaddy. IMO, they’re the real “American Radiohead” – an alternative rock band with an experimental edge, falsetto vocals, and lyrics about technology and the anxiety of modern life. In that case, The Sophtware Slump would be their answer to OK Computer, or some sort of the sequel Radiohead never made – as Pitchfork wrote, “If Radiohead captured a feeling of pre-millenial tension, The Sophtware Slump captured the feeling of disappointment that came afterward."
Despite the similarities, The Sophtware Slump is a brilliant album on its own account – described upon release as “a work of rare and precious qualities, a collection of emotional, richly melodic songs” (from the Daily Telegraph review). “The Crystal Lake” is the lead single, and it’s one of the catchiest songs on the band’s repertoire. Kicking off with a catchy guitar line, it’s beautiful to sing along to, fun to play, and builds into the anxious chorus statement: “I’ve got to get out of here." It’s a great rock song and a great introduction to this fantastic band. (- yaniv297)
And now, introducing our headliner:
If the popularity of "Creep" and the pressure to follow it up already strained the band, imagine how Radiohead felt after the release of an album like OK Computer. Thom Yorke was hit particularly hard following the record's success, and became disillusioned with himself, his voice, his words, the music he wrote, and felt he was "unhinged" due to the feeling of having done the same thing and lived the same way for 10 years and being no longer "able to connect with anything" - a feeling that the other members shared, to some extent. He was sick of the typical usage of guitars in music, or indeed the very idea or sound of "guitar music," a sound that he felt had "run its course," and was further perturbed by the amount of bands. Resultingly, he became infatuated with the more experimental electronic music of artists on the Warp record label, known for their roster of IDM musicians such as Autechre and Aphex Twin. This music would become a key influence on the writing of Kid A and the band's endeavors into electronic instrumentation, with an emphasis on textural songwriting rather than traditional rock structures found in their previous work.
And so eventually the band came to terms with the fact that they had to go in a completely different direction - "change everything," as Colin Greenwood put it - and that change would be challenging in some ways. With the deepening void of guitars in each song, and the increasing presence of electronic drums or sampling and looping, the band's members needed to either accept a diminished representation on the album, or adapt. At first it was difficult, with the rest of the band expressing concern over Thom's new direction and the obtuse music he was writing, doubting their position in the band, whether this sound was the right way forward, and the likelihood of the album turning out listenable rather than an overindulgent mess. Thankfully, they were all eventually convinced of the new direction and started working productively towards the record's completion, with new sounds, new instruments, new effects, new software.
The album's ultimate sound took on influences from electronic music, jazz, krautrock, hip hop, and more, making a stark contrast from the tone of their preceding records. This, of course, would make it a difficult album to promote - and in fact, with the immensely high anticipation for the band's next record after the massive OK Computer, the band ended up shying away from traditional marketing almost entirely. They participated in very few interviews or photoshoots, and perhaps more significantly, never released any singles from the album, nor any advance copies of the album. That doesn't mean the album wasn't promoted at all, however - with the band's elaborate, abstract website design; the creation of web players that fans could embed on their websites, containing artwork and online pre-order links, that broadcasted short snippets or "blips" of the music of Kid A alongside short films; and of course, the Napster leak of the album three weeks prior to its release - Kid A became one of the first records that truly demonstrated the power of the internet.
Although OK Computer may still be the more popular album, the release of Kid A is easily the most iconic moment in Radiohead's history. On October 2, 2000, Kid A was unleashed to the world, debuting at the number one spot in the charts in numerous countries, including both the UK and the US. However, initial critic and fan reactions were initially mixed - confused, even - and from one listen to the album, it's immediately clear why. This was not the alternative rock album that was expected - and with no singles or advance copies beforehand, how could they come to expect anything else? It took time for it to truly sink in, but given some years, many of those who initially trashed it had finally warmed up to it, and the record found its way to practically universal acclaim. If OKC is the record that carved them a place into rock legend, then Kid A is the one that cemented them into it.
"Everything in Its Right Place"
Perhaps the most foreboding possible way to open this record, the minimalistic 10/4 synth groove of "Everything in Its Right Place" immediately strips away any preconceptions the listener might have that Kid A is just another rock record, and sets the tone for the journey to follow. It was the first song written for the album, originally composed by Thom Yorke on a grand piano in his house, and later recorded on a vintage Prophet-5 synthesizer, with dissonant chords landing on the upbeats in between the constant kick drum beat. Thom's vocals were augmented by another layer of digitally processed vocals, chopped into a creepy, glitchy mess by Jonny Greenwood using a Kaoss Pad. Its creation immediately set the rest of Kid A's production into motion - once the band heard it, they knew it had to be the one to open the album. Thom's lyrics about sucking on lemons and what-not sound nonsensical at first, and then remain pretty nonsensical (if not more so) when you learn they were inspired by a particular depression he experienced following a performance at the NEC Arena.
The title-track does not let up from the unusual electronic sounds introduced by the opener, further testing the listeners diligence. However, the instrumentation - even with the choppy, energetic, programmed drums (which make for a very fun drum track, by the way) - manages to be a lot more relaxing than the preceding track, despite the slightly eerie vocoded vocals. Its twinkling, bell-like synths evoke a glimmering winter landscape (not too unlike the scene depicted on the album's cover), while the bassy keyboards underneath create a feeling of calm. After the evocative and strangely catchy chorus of "standing in the shadows at the end of my bed," a groovy bass riff briefly joins in lockstep with the drums before everything drops out, at which point a lush, glistening, celestial-sounding synth chord starts to fade in, creating a gorgeous ambient interlude. Finally, the drums and bass groove come back in under the synths, creating an upbeat ending. The lyrics in this song demonstrate a unique method of writing, wherein phrases were cut up, then drawn from a hat and rearranged, resulting in very strange and abstract lyrics that worked like a collage of sorts - this technique was used in various other songs on the record. It's one of the most difficult songs here to get a grasp of, but truly beautiful once you do.
"The National Anthem"
On the third track, Radiohead finally come back to something resembling rock - though standard alternative rock, this ain't. The song opens up with eerie synth sounds and an absolutely killer bassline from Colin Greenwood that needs to heard to be believed, soon joined a powerful drum groove, creating a driving, repetitive, krautrock-inspired backing upon which layers are added for the entire piece. Dissonant synths and strange samples invite an alien atmosphere, before Thom's vocals join the mix for a couple brief verses - but what follows is truly spectacular, as a bombastic brass section makes its entrance, building into a wild sax solo. After a brief reprieve, the song launches back into an absolutely chaotic fuckfest of the entire brass section basically just freaking the hell out (they were instructed to sound like "a car crash"). The drum and bass groove carries on through all of this, until they suddenly cut out as the brass plays a final couple of glass-shattering chords.
"How to Disappear Completely"
The first song on the album to feature guitars, on "How to Disappear Completely" we finally start to hear something resembling "approachable" - and what a beautiful thing it is. It starts soft, with just acoustic guitar, despondent vocals, and a quiet background drone. After the first chorus, soft drums and strings enter as the song begins to slowly build and build, reaching a stunning climax as Thom's vocals soar to new heights in unison with the gorgeous string arrangement. After a final chorus, the eerie two-note melody hinted at throughout the song prior is repeated by Thom as the song slowly descends into dissonance, creating a tumultuous moment where the entire song sounds as though it's coming apart at the seams. But just when all seems lost, the drums start to fade back in, and the strings begin to rise into a harmonious crescendo that pulls the song out of oblivion. The lyrics were inspired by a vivid dream Thom had about floating through the city like a ghost, with the chorus lyric "I'm not here, this isn't happening" coming from a mantra given to him by R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe to help him deal with the mental stress of fame and constant touring. Very few songs have affected me in the way that "How to Disappear Completely" has - it's a haunting emotional experience and I cannot praise it enough.
"Treefingers" is a soft, peaceful, ambient piece, acting as a reprieve from the harrowing emotional turmoil of the preceding track. It originated as a free-form guitar composition played by Ed O'Brien using all manner of effects and loops to create a textural soundscape that hardly sounds like guitar - this recording was later digitally processed and rearranged by Thom into a shorter, more structured, yet still very ethereal and rhythmless, piece of music. Although it was originally played on guitar, the song is charted on keys as it just feels more sensible to be played that way (and in the few times it was performed live, keyboards were used as well).
The most traditional, guitar-centric "rock" song on the album, "Optimistic" is likely the most reminiscent of the band's previous work, and is more accessible for those looking for that sound. That doesn't mean it's quite normal, however, with its strange chords and still very alien atmosphere. The song builds tension with its tom-based drum pattern, only barely resembling a traditional rock beat (that is, one using the snare or cymbals) until the explosive outro, which features some intense drum fills and smooth bass work, while the guitar and vocals finally reprise their parts from the intro. After a short break, the very end of the song suddenly drops into a brief jazzy groove which is abruptly cut off by the next song.
This track, with its meandering, layered guitar arpeggios, atmospheric keyboards, and laid-back groove alternating between sections of 6/4 and 4/4, has a very lucid and almost psychedelic feel to it, making its title quite apt. The swirling instrumentation and simple, yet odd bassline combine with an unusual vocal melody to give the verses a particularly otherworldly vibe, while the drowsy, double-tracked vocals in the chorus give the sensation of floating through an ocean. The outro breaks the fog with its loud yells of "come back" over the steady instrumentation, until the song collapses into waves of noise.
While the last few songs had somewhat more guitar than the start of the album, this track jumps right back into full-on electronica, being one of the most heavily IDM-influenced songs on the record, providing a bit of a shock to those who settled into the hypnotic groove of the previous track. It's a very rhythmic song and manages to be incredibly danceable with its 6/4 drum pattern combined with a 4/4 chord progression and melody (and a 5/4 vocal sample added in later on). The drum loop was created by Jonny on a modular synthesizer, while the beautiful ambient chords were sampled from Paul Lansky's "Mild und Leise," an early computer music composition from 1976. The song features particularly energetic vocals that start to border on manic in the second verse (even more so when performed live), as well as one of the catchiest, most singable choruses on the entire record. While the song itself is an absolute banger, the lyrics reference subjects like a global warming and nuclear warfare - despite the fact that some of them were written using the aforementioned cutting, drawing, and rearranging method. It's remained one of the album's most popular songs and is a live staple as well as a fan favorite.
"Morning Bell" transitions directly out of "Idioteque" and introduces itself with an upbeat, 5/4 drum beat with brief, staccato snare rolls on every fifth beat, never letting up for the whole piece. It's soon joined by a repeating bassline and keyboard chord progression, followed by vocals. Its initial verse/refrain pattern teeters constantly between dissonance and harmony, with very abstract yet vaguely unsettling lyrics. Strangely treated guitar enters during the extended third verse, which builds tension until finally reaching a short release. Following a creepy bridge, repeating the lyric "cut the kids in half," the song drops the harmonious sections, settling on an ominous, gradually building groove. Over the next couple minutes, intensely mumbling and whispering vocals, echoing harmonies, and more eerie guitars are slowly added to the mix until suddenly cutting back to just bass and keys at the song's very end.
"Motion Picture Soundtrack"
Finally, we're here - the final track on the album, and one of the most depressingly beautiful songs in the band's entire catalogue. A stripped down affair, featuring only Thom singing over a harmonium pedal organ, it's easy to take the song's lyrics as an allusion to suicide with lines like "red wine and sleeping pills" (although Thom denies it.) Despite the overall tone of the song, the chorus refrain is actually strangely catchy - but then... something truly magical happens. After a brief moment of silence, the song suddenly bursts into a rainbow of shimmering, ethereal harps as a 50s-Disney-inspired arrangement gently flutters down upon the second verse, followed by rising, angelic voices that accompany Thom on the final chorus. Then, a lull - "I will see you..." - and all of the heavenly noises float back in, for a truly gorgeous, bittersweet finale - "...in the next life." It's a piece of music that defies words, but I tried to capture it as best as I can. Truly, this journey could not have ended on a more perfect note.