Guest Writer: Spencer Adams

Today we welcome my younger brother, Spencer, to Y.R.NAdams as the site’s first guest writer. He is a big shot at his high school newspaper and he asked me if he could write about his favorite album ever, In Rainbows. So here ya go. -Nick

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From the first 5/4 measure of electronic drums in “15 Steps,” I could tell something breathtaking was going to come. But I couldn’t have anticipated how empty my lungs would be 43 minutes later.

I know this may not be the most original article someone’s written. Another musically pretentious high school kid glorifying Radiohead and, more specifically, their masterpiece In Rainbows. Nothing new here. But I’m not going to analyze the band’s cultural significance or the monumental influence Radiohead has had on legions of young musicians. I’m going to be talking about my personal experience with In Rainbows, which is hands-down my favorite album of all time.

I had the fortune of immersing myself in Radiohead in an ideal order: I started listening to The Bends, moved on to OK Computer, and then Kid A (with Hail to the Thief and Amnesiac sprinkled throughout). I largely followed their catalogue chronologically, which allowed me to appreciate the progression of music and experimentality. I listened to each album obsessively, taking at least a month to digest one album before graduating on to the next. But constantly listening to and internalizing those three albums only warmed me up for In Rainbows.

Before I listened to In Rainbows, I was already a fan of Radiohead. I knew their music ranged from top-notch guitar-driven alternative (“Just”) to emotionally layered reflections (“Let Down”) to overtly experimental and musically sophisticated statements (“Everything In Its Right Place”). I admired their musical prowess, but more importantly I simply enjoyed listening to song after song in my silver 2006 Nissan Altima. But when I finally decided to try out In Rainbows, I was blown away.

First off, the way the band warps and mixes their instruments is magical. The songs are constructed using mostly straightforward instruments: guitars, bass, vocals, piano, drums, etc. But while listening to In Rainbows, I rarely hear the instruments individually.  It’s not chillwave or too effects-laden; it’s easy to pick apart and recognize what makes each noise. But the incredibly crisp yet soft and gentle production quality and sheer ingenuity of the songs leads to a cohesive, uniform sound. Each note and musician perfectly complements the others on a track, creating a mist of dream-like sound which Thom Yorke’s warbling vocals expertly navigate. A particular highlight for me is Philip Selway’s drum parts, which are so tight and some of his most creative on any Radiohead album. The precision and musicality exhibited is phenomenal. But Selway’s part’s are still just a component on each skillfully crafted track. For example, on “Reckoner,” shakers, drums, a simple guitar riff, measure-long piano chords, and barely noticeable background vocals fit together so precisely before giving way to a soaring string section, creating a united front of transcendental, shimmering sound. If Kid A deconstructed sound, In Rainbows successfully reconstructed it.

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Second and more importantly, In Rainbows is the most serene and emotionally poignant album I know of. It’s an incredibly refreshing and needed break from the songs dripping with sadness or happiness which seem to constantly blare from the radio speakers. There’s not a single song where you immediately recognize what Radiohead is trying to make you feel. Rather, a subdued feeling of content and hopeful loneliness courses through the album like an underwater current, an unstopping stream of tranquilly flowing through your earbuds. The brazen guitar on “Bodysnatchers” drives a sense flailing, frightening confusion; the last coda of “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” welcomes a final escape but only after hitting the bottom; the dazzling string section in “Reckoner” instills a cautious optimism among a landscape filled with “blank shores.” Radiohead successfully wrapped up these feelings in a clean, musically brilliant package, and it takes multiple listens to open it up, which has why the album has only grown on me with time. It seems that everytime I listen, I discover something new.

But why this album over other Radiohead works? I think, for me, it’s the particular sentiment of the album. All of Radiohead’s other albums feature the same advantages of In Rainbows: subtle emotions, musical sophistication. But while OK Computer is about alienation and Kid A is about detachment, In Rainbows is about acceptance. Moments of tension (“Jigsaw Falling into Place”) or longing (“I don’t want to be your friend / I just want to be your lover” from “House of Cards”) certainly exist; but the overarching theme is a quiet, reserved acceptance of these unfortunate realities (as I mentioned before, in “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” Yorke sings that he “hit the bottom,” but then is able to “escape”). This could be seen as depressing or passive, but I choose to see it as a path towards a peaceful state in an imperfect world (“No matter what happens now / I shouldn’t be afraid / Because I know today has been the most perfect day I’ve ever seen” the last lines of the last song on the album, “Videotape”).  The line offers guidance towards tranquility when it seems impossibly out of reach. Things don’t always work out and you can’t plan for what happens, but if you recognize and accept that daunting fact you can lead a happier, more fulfilled life. This is Radiohead reconnecting with you after albums of disconnect.

So what’s my relationship with In Rainbows now? After it climbed to the top of my list and burrowed itself in my mind, I decided to limit myself. I reserve it for special occasions: driving home under glowing streetlights after a serene night, lying on my bed staring at the jet-black ceiling while trying to think about something major or not think at all, or even introducing one of my friends to Radiohead’s genius. It’s a heavily spiritual and hesitantly optimistic album which wastes no space, a meticulously-crafted and precise sound which has taught me that there’s always a way to find inner peace.

Some people see themselves reflected in poetry, paintings, or movies. Above any other art form, I find myself through music. And the last minute and five seconds of “Nude” is just about the most spiritual, beautiful, and moving piece of art I have ever experienced.

 

BONUS: Check out Radiohead’s superb performance “Live from The Basement – In Rainbows.” It makes you appreciate the album and the band even more.

Guest Writer: Spencer Adams

The Calm Before the SWISH

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Yes, I know the album is officially The Life Of Pablo, but I will always be on Team SWISH because that is the swaggiest album title I’ve ever heard. We’re apparently hours (minutes?) away from the climax of Yeezy Season 2k16 and whether T.L.O.P. is a smash hit or a jumbled mess, it’s going to dominate my foreseeable future. I will write about Kanye soon enough, so I’m going to take this time to throw something together about my favorite music from the first few weeks of the new year.

Music to Ride Home By

My bike ride home from my internship has given me some time to listen to music in a way that I haven’t really experienced before. This is my first real 9-5 office job and I’ve quickly learned that getting off work for the day is literally the best feeling ever. And the best way to celebrate my freedom is blasting the new Kevin Gates album (Islah) while I bike through the suburban streets. It makes me smile and inadvertently sing along even when it’s 20 degrees out and my face hurts. I work in a silent office and I do monotonous tasks all day and I wear wrinkly collared shirts, but I feel like a true baller when I hear “ALL MY DIAMONDS SHINE CUZ THEY REALLY DIAMONDS” as I ride home. Listen to this album to a) get amped up because every song is a banger and b) hear super personal and emotionally charged verses from Mr. Kevin Gates in these bangers.

The second album that I’ve really been digging is the new one from Porches, Pool. Unlike Islah, this is definitely a winter-y album. Aaron Maine’s voice drips with melancholy and the synth-heavy landscape he creates embodies isolation and doubt. That being said, this isn’t a necessarily sad album, but rather an album that is best consumed alone. Last Friday, I biked home in a kind of twilight after a fresh snowfall and listened to this album. I went over a little river on a little bridge and felt like a kid in a movie scene. The headphones experience of Pool creates an atmosphere that I got lost in. It’s inviting but also very personal. It was one of my first times listening to the album but I still felt very close to the music. Go on a long walk and listen to this.

I could write more, like about how Young Thug is ten times more exciting than Future, but I need to sleep. Happy listening everyone.

The Calm Before the SWISH

January 2016 Album Spotlight

Review: Anderson .Paak – Malibu

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I learned about Anderson .Paak the same way most people did: by seeing his name all over the tracklist for Dr. Dre’s comeback album, Compton, last year. I don’t think I listened to the album more than once, but I did keep coming back to .Paak’s starring role on “Animals”, which really should be his own song featuring the Doctor. His singing voice is forceful and it’s unique–the type of voice that you instantly recognize when it enters the song. For example: his guest spot in “The Strip”, where he comes into the mix seemingly out of nowhere and provides a stark contrast between the lyrically-packed, lo-fi rapping and his reinvigorating hook. It’s a show-stopping moment that exhibits his rich voice that is fully on display in this month’s Malibu.

First off, .Paak got screwed with a January release date. Maybe it’s just because I’m writing this from New England, but it feels wrong to listen to this album while I’m bundled up walking around campus. This is ideal music for driving around in the summer with the windows down, especially the more upbeat songs, which also happen to be the standouts.

Opener “The Bird” starts slow and ends with a powerful statement of “Mama was a farmer / Papa was a goner”, but the next few songs fail to capitalize and feature a subdued .Paak rapping with a (biting?) Kendrick-style flow that I didn’t enjoy as much as the songs where he stuck to singing. His voice gets louder and the album starts to pick up around “Put Me Thru” and “Am I Wrong” (with a great transition between those two).

There are musically-genius moments here that impress me each listen and encourage dancing wherever you may be: the hook in “Parking Lot”, the horns at the end of “Am I Wrong”, and the emphatic “Oh hell nah!” on “Your Prime”, for example. .Paak can definitely write a hit and you can feel the beaming smile on his face during the highs of Malibu.

The guest rap verses vary in quality: Rapsody and Talib Kweli are largely forgettable and while ScHoolboy Q gives us a unique melodic verse in “Am I Wrong”, it blends in a little too well with the rest of the mix. The Game takes the crown in “Room In Here”, where he sounds strangely harmless (but very natural) over a pleasantly breezy beat.

Some of the slower, less-structured songs cause the album to drag a bit too much to justify a sixteen-song, hour-long track list. Cutting three or four of these songs would have solidified Malibu as a front-to-back hit for me. Then again, I’ve always preferred faster-paced R&B and soul music to the slower variety. .Paak is an artist more off-the-beaten-path than the typical Dr. Dre associate, as seen by his excellent collaborations with Knxwledge (as NxWorries) and milo, to name a few. “Suede” and “Link Up” from the NxWorries EP would be the *weird* songs on Malibu but they would definitely fit in and provide some needed variety. I hope that he continues to explore the experimental side of his artistry as he moves forward. Malibu shows that Anderson .Paak is a star and he’s on the brink of a totally unique sound very early in his career.

Highlights: “Am I Wrong”, “Parking Lot”, “Come Down”

January 2016 Album Spotlight