Illustration by Lauren Tessmer
Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the main event in the category of heavyweight snobbery. We are here—with all the contempt, apathy and jaded nostalgia a person can stand—to settle the ultimate rivalry: the generational wedge of music. Which of these men will prove he knows it better and hates it more?
LET’S GET READY TO GRUMBLE…
In the left corner we have Mark “Malarkey” Henderson. From the golden age of music, owning hundreds of records when records were the only option, and attending the historic 1974 Dylan returns with The Band tour. Henderson, a world-class griper. The White Album, Pet Sounds and Steely Dan’s Peg were the only lullabies he sand to his child, a real heavy-hitter when it comes to having opinions.
In the right, weighing in at 400Lps, 300 CDs and the entire WYMS music library, Barney has interviewed dozens of bands, has been seen on stage with the Decemberists and was once called a “radio professional” by Ira Glass. A snob in the highest sense: Justin “The Nose” Barney
Mark “Malarky” Henderson:
With or without his band, Radiohead, Thom Yorke continues his experiment in totally unlistenable music. This time out he has released an eight-song vinyl album which coexists with a digital bit torrent.
“Brain in a Bottle,” the free single available online, is a monotonous collection of electronic noodlings laid under Yorke warbling what are largely unintelligible lyrics. Granted I’m listening to this on laptop speakers, which are without a doubt the worst possible acoustic medium there is. This is compounded with the fact that I haven’t pulled the trigger on that pair of hearing aides yet (yes, both ears are bad).
That said, Yorke seems to be reaching back to the time-honored rock ‘n’ roll tradition of “sing it so mom and dad won’t understand.” (The Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” comes to mind.) Now, the fact that he’s releasing this on vinyl – white vinyl with a special label, (no marketing ploys here) – allows for another time-honored tradition of album jacket lyrics. Being able to read the lyrics to the songs can give a deeper, richer understanding of the songwriters meaning. Just don’t make me listen to that meandering, overemotional wail anymore.
Justin “The Nose” Barney:
As The Hipster here, you might have thought that I would go into this song praising Radiohead’s frontman, Thom Yorke, as he is one of the highest respected musicians ever, and is held in especially high regard for the intellectual nature of his music.
Yorke is consistently lauded for his odd time signatures, his willingness to stretch convention, and for his reclusive genius. Though I have never really seen much of this in Radiohead, and especially not in his solo career, including “A Brain in a Bottle.” It seems to be that Yorke is needlessly experimenting, knowing that the less things make sense the more his work will be regarded as that of abstract genius.
In this particular song, while perhaps sounding a little inaccessible at first, the beat is a very simple repeat. It thumps under the song restricting it from any real motion. He adds some synthesized effects over it, which are just not interesting enough to add anything of real value. The real redeeming, and interesting quality in this song is Yorke’s voice. It is gentle, melodic, and has understated power. Considering all of this I would give the track a six out of 10.