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Trend or Coincidence in 2011 New Music?

Two new releases in the last two months have piqued my interest a great deal. Notably, they’re in the “Rock” realm. (Can we please get a new term, and NOT Indie?) “The King Of Limbs” by Radiohead and “Kaputt” by Destroyer have been my personal soundtrack, non-stop, since the latter’s release last month. They are the first two non-Jazz projects I’ve popped in a CD player, and listened to all the way through, non-stop, 2-3 times in a row.

It’s perhaps an indication of something I sense as a trend, or maybe it’s just coincidence. But either way, it’s a totally welcome occurance. I think “trend,” as both releases are offerings of some above average intelligent artists, who are copied at times, and certainly admired by folks I admire. People look to these bands for hints of what they should be doing down the road, especially Radiohead. (Would there even be a Coldplay without Radiohead? I doubt it; and I still like Thom Yorke & Co., even if they helped spawn, albeit indirectly, one of the most annoying and pretentious bands of all time.)

Exactly what caught my attention? I was hoping you’d ask…

As mentioned above, they are both recordings that practically demand the listener’s full attention, start to finish. That’s against the grain in this age of the singles download. And the reason you listen all the way through is not because they’re a single narrative. In other words, not necessarily “concept records,” but a well-thought out whole. Radiohead and Destroyer both have delightfully embraced this to my ears. I advise listening to these several times through in the car.

Something else strikes me as nice, beyond nice, in these two jewels. The pay-off never arrives. No sweeping finales or “arena moments,” even though they are hinted at, and would fit. Daniel Behar (Destroyer) or Johnny Greenwood (Radiohead) do not rip cascading arpeggios from their guitars. There are places where they might, I suppose. Instead, that moment arrives, and the artists simply withdraw, ending pieces prematurely. I like it; the sound of pseudo-surprise.

There are more similarities; both are well produced, especially “Kaputt.” Makes sense, it’s a lush, gorgeous pop gem with a jazzy sway (near smooth jazz, but skirted brilliantly,) and really brilliant instrumentation that evokes a kind of paradise feel; trouble in paradise is never far off, however. Distant horns, slinky bass, and cavernous drums create a feeling of an endless horizon, the kind you walk towards until you can’t walk another step. Bejar’s vocals on the record remind me of a demented Jewish cantor. He’s straining against the lyrics at times, and always projects a world weary Playboy. Take that, “world’s most interesting man!” Never did like XX cerveza.

On “King Of Limbs,” Radiohead is in the details. For years, they have been “championed as the most innovative band on the planet, turning rock-and-roll’s bombast inside out, building songs with incalculable layers, nooks and crannies.” (Chris Thomas, The Washington Post. Nice dude!!) One doesn’t listen to Radiohead records so much as scour them. Matter of fact, one would do well to discard one’s initial impression of the latest and start over.  The new release is elegant, richly textured and quietly pleasing. It’s a finely sculpted effort, with skittish rhythms and more akin to Amnesiac or Kid A than recent output.

Both “Kaputt” and “The King Of Limbs” display such confidence and grace, they’re hard to leave after just one listen. They’re too rich and luscious. Both albums are worth exploring and re-exploring. If this is a trend in the new year, it’s welcome.