Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cymbal #25:: Nihil ex nihilo

It's been raining in the capital. The roads are washed out. Traffic moves in glitches. Cars are thick smears of paint on a painter's palette, like butter or  jam, waiting to be scraped and smoothed into their background. You've called in to say you'll be late. You've called everyone you could, including people people who aren't sympathetic. Fights are starting and stopping under flyovers. The only beneficiaries are the trees, which have been touched up and have seemingly grown.

On a morning like this, nothing sounds appropriate. Hip hop's bravado echoes irritatingly; metal has too much space to impale itself; happy music sounds silly; classic rock sounds staged and pompous; ambient things cause foot tapping. Needless to say, you can torch all the radio stations. This is the weather for dirges.

Amnesiac is usually written off as Radiohead's least album- a clutch of out-takes and continuations, ribbons of tape left over form the Kid A sessions.

Radiohead - Pyramid Song - 2001

Maybe this is the song that dolphins and mermaids sing to drowning sailors. The compass points are all in place. The two rivers of mystery cults: the Lethe, falling into which is the forgetting of the things you knew, and the Mnemosyne, which is the remembering of all things. Are you doomed to this same territory even in the next life?

Perhaps this is what you deserve for the venality of your days, the sins of omission and acquiescence you commit, the invisible victims of your lack of judgment. Every day you shuffle paper and kill trees. Your car poisons the birds out of the air. The fools you elected in the spring are busy stabbing each other in the autumn, waving finger puppets as standards.

Radiohead - Knives Out - 2001

Worse yet, you know it, don't you? Can't you feel it build up in the wings of your mind? How long will you keep it at bay?

In Kid A and Amnesiac, Radiohead presented the complete state of the afterlife, as known. It may be gnomic and luminescent. It may be Buddhist and empty even of emptiness. It may be none of your business.

Radiohead - Life in a Glass House - 2001

Thom Yorke hangs between exasperation and wistfulness when he sings "Well of course I'd love to sit around and chat/ well of course I'd love to sit and chew the fat", with the indecision of a man who's gathered his coat and opened the door to see the storm still raging. The violence of everyday persists; we are all still hungry for a lynching.

What does it take to turn a horn section that could have come from a jazz bar in the 1920s into this distilled essence of lethargy? This is music to be played by graveyard caretakers. Those sweet magisterial blasts of horn score the time it takes for things to decay, fruit to rot, the noses to fall off corpses. Like the triumph of a funeral procession, it sweeps the joy from the streets.

No one else is to blame. You have brought this upon yourself.

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