Somewhere We Will Meet: My Life with Radiohead’s OK Computer by Sarah Nichols
I can’t tell you that I knew about Radiohead from the beginning. Maybe, in 1993, I flicked the radio dial across Thom Yorke’s signature sob-sneer of a voice, unimpressed, a cast-off of the grunge I didn’t care about. I was sullen, depressed, and nineteen in 1993; a high school dropout. I was the perfect audience for that earnest despair, but I didn’t feel it. I see myself rewinding my cassette of Depeche Mode’s Songs of Faith and Devotion (released a month after Pablo Honey), the bedroom light off, at least until the end of the first side. I listened to the hold-overs from the last decade; Republic might not be brilliant in the way that Technique was (and is), but it was still New Order. Wish didn’t exert the same night-blooming dread that Disintegration did, but it was still the Cure. I wanted stability, the same voices that I had devoted hours to in all of those dark suburban bedrooms.
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Warning: this song/video may prompt you to take a hard look at your current career trajectory.
The year is 2014. It’s nearing the end of the semester and foolishly, you are in law school. Your days are spent in the library, from open to close, studying for exams. You wear little to no make up and shower only occasionally. You’ve eaten your weight in Vietnamese subs and candy. You hate the law. You hate the people in the library. You hate yourself. You forget what life was like before this miserable existence.
Then, like a gift from the universe, you stumble across the music video for “Busy Earnin’” by Jungle. Mesmerized by the ingenuous confluence of 70s-style funk, street fashion, and dance, you start to question who you are and why you are in law school. Suddenly, everything seems so clear. Why pursue a career in law when you could be rolling with a crew of incredible dancers decked out in flawless Adidas!?!?!
You send the video to your friends and casually canvass their interest in joining your new dance crew. You take stock of the Adidas in your closet. Regrettably, both interest in your crew and your Jungle-inspired wardrobe is limited. You graduate and become a lawyer, forever haunted by what could have been.
The above story is true. Now that you’ve read it you’ll be ready to enjoy the music video while staving off the desire to burn your own life to the ground to pursue dance. So, enjoy!
One final note: I just want to confirm that other than share this video and talk about it, the only substantive step I took towards cementing myself as a hip hop dancer was buy these Adidas shorts, which are clearly very cool.
But enough about me, zip-up your track suit and let’s do thisssss.
West African style guitar + electro-melancholia = “Black Swan,” by Thom Yorke
From Radiohead front man’s 2006 solo album The Eraser, “Black Swan” radiates warmth while suffusing the listener with sadness. The song captures gloom as well as an inclination to wrap myself in and be cosseted by it, as if gloom were a thick hand-knit blanket. Sadness is one thing, but to cocoon myself in it brings a sense of safety and, dare I say, pleasure.
Most supergroup projects are disappointing and uninspired. That’s just a strange statistical reality. But thankfully there are exceptions and BNQT is one of them. BNQT (pronounced: Banquet — I know the whole leaving out the vowels band title thing is so over baked at this point) is essentially the band Midlake, with guest vocalists getting a chance to co-write and sing on two songs each. Jason Lytle of Granddaddy, Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferndinand, Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses, and Fran Healy of Travis.
It’s the sort of musical experiment that could go horribly wrong, but I think what keeps it all unified while still stretching to fit the talents of the various singer-songwriters, is the loose but rock steady foundation that the musicians of Midlake provide. They’re like the funk-brothers of the alternative aughts circuit.
It would be so easy to pick a Jason Lytle song here. His two contributions, “Failing at Feeling” and “100 Million Miles” are gorgeous, sweeping, and epic— either would be highlights on any Granddaddy album. But the song that stands out for me on an album loaded with standouts, is the Alex Kapranos-led, “Hey Banana.”
It’s silly, a bit creepy, and exudes just the right amount of late 60s psychedelic menace. Kapranos gives the song his best Jim Morrison impression, and the strings and horns that build and round out the choruses elevate an entertaining goof into something more complex, more fully formed. It somehow comes of as both disturbing and oddly sweet.
The prerecorded voices near the end — a child and a woman both whispering, “Hi Banana. How you doing banana? I love you banana!” is perfectly odd and so fitting for a song this catchy and lyrically inappropriate. I mean they are saying the same thing Kapranos croons in the song’s first verse, but from the kid and woman it sounds less pervy.
And the chorus is downright threatening, especially in the context of so many needy bananas.
So stop what you’re doing You gotta stop what you’re doing If you don’t get down I’m gonna knock you down I don’t wanna have to do that But I’ll knock you down
No need for psychoanalysis on this one. Just enjoy it and dance along in your PJ and slippers. The perfect song for a cold winter evening.
I have a confession. There was a time when I snubbed hip hop. My excuse? I’m from the suburbs. Unfortunately, I can’t claim that I was never exposed. The first beats I heard came booming out of customized, lowered mini pickup trucks driven by mulleted, Oakley Blade-wearing white teenagers. This was my Northern California ‘burb scene in the 1980s.
For me and my pack of junior skater kids, this was not cool yet. These were early days. Alternative radio had not yet caught on to the sounds from NYC’s outer boroughs. We took our tips from Thrasher Magazine and bought into the notion we should only listen to punk rock. Though I considered myself open minded, I was far from it.
Luckily, De La Soul found me. I may have to credit my early diet of classic rock radio for opening my door to hip hop. “Eye Know” first caught my ear because of the Steely Dan “Peg” sample. The guitar chime was a familiar, soothing and safe space where hip hop and myself found common ground. As soon as I heard the drums kick in over the Steely Dan sample, I was hooked.
“Eye Know” was different than any other hip hop track I heard before. Though it contains a couple juvenile innuendos, it is very much a love song. It is thoughtful, emotionally intelligent and a sharp contrast to the confrontational, crotch grabbing, bitch jockin’ tracks that came booming from those ridiculous mini pickup trucks. To me, it was bold statement. It was punk. My skater kid sensibilities approved of this.
“Eye Know” opened my ears to the entire Three Feet High and Rising album, which turned me on to A Tribe Called Quest. Eventually, I learned to step out of my suburban shell and embrace hip hop in all its bombastic boasting and bragging glory. My appreciation of hip hop has allowed me to find common ground with people from all around the world, many of which I have learned some my most valuable cultural lessons and shared my fondest experiences. Though, I have never warmed up to mullets, Oakley Blades or lowered mini pickup trucks, maybe I should? There could be a whole world that I am failing to experience.
Memoir Mixtapes gives me the chance to bring you “the twins;” which is what “Ibeyi” means in the Yoruba Language. These two girls from Cuba and France bring you lots of music genres in their latest album, in which they have opened their rhythms to a wider audience. Their music still sounds like “world music,” but they’ve added some elegant and complex music arrangements, which allows them to reach the Pitchfork audience. They have now been accepted by “the bible of current music.” Their new polished image is also part of this marketing campaign to make them look and sound “cool.”
Now that this has been said, I can just praise the album. It is one of the year’s surprises. Its form is intricate electronic music and its content is extraordinarily global. You can even find Frida Kahlo’s famous lines in their lyrics (“Transmission”). They tried everything to make this work, from gospel to spoken verses. Their voices are (have always been) delicious, but with the richness of this production, temptation is impossible to resist.
Listen to the album and also enjoy their guests, from Kamasi Washington, Meshell Ndegeocello, Chili Gonzales or even La Mala Rodríguez. Yes! They also call for attention to the Latin audience. The messages are feminist, similar to Beyoncé’s last record, for example: “No Man is Big Enough for my Arms”.
They feel stronger than ever, and they sound stronger than ever. They have the voices of angels like Syd or Lauryn Hill, and the sophistication of D’Angelo or Erykah Badu, all they need to be here and there.
If you like what you hear you can find the album on Spotify.
Today is Christmas for those in the Christian world/not-Christian-but-observe-anyway-to-get-food-and-presents world.
For lots of us this means elevated levels of every kind of emotion. Maybe you got that present you were hoping for and now you’re jumping around like the Nintendo 64 kid. It could be that you’re stressing about the family dinner you’re responsible for because the turkey should have gone in the oven an hour ago and now dinner is going to be late. Or perhaps you have no one to share the day with because you’re on your own for the first time this year and you’re anxious and lonely. Whatever it is you’re feeling, chances are it’s amplified tenfold today.
If you’re here reading the last of this year’s holiday recommendations on Memoir Mixtapes, chances are you’re looking for a quick break from all that. You’re hoping for a little something to ease the pressure of so much feeling.
Please, allow us to help in our own way.
A big part of today is the giving and receiving of presents, so how’s about you give yourself a little present? Take five, ten minutes for yourself. Let all those intense feelings go and be still for a moment. Let the Vince Guaraldi Trio bring your vibe down to something a bit more manageable.
This rendition of “O Tannenbaum” (or “O Christmas Tree,” if for some reason you hate the original German title) from the Charlie Brown Christmas special really is remarkable. It manages to accomplish so very much while being deceptively simple. It’s jazzy and cool and it makes you want to get up and dance, but it’s smooth and soft and compels you to relax and sip a cocktail, yet it’s also quiet and reflective and sends your mind wandering far back into the halls of memory through years long gone. For this reason it’s one of my very favorite Christmas songs, and it should be one of yours too.
From us here at Memoir Mixtapes I’d like to wish you all a Merry Christmas/Feliz Navidad/Joyeux Noël/happy Sir Isaac Newton’s birthday/happy holidays/glorious-regular-day-that-isn’t-a-holiday/fantastic-whatever-else-you-got-going-on. Thank you guys very much for reading.