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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Music Review: Radiohead's In Rainbows Lets The Air In

Radiohead bassist Colin Greenwood "You like my filigrees then?"

"I don't wanna be your friend/ I just wanna be your lover" Thom Yorke croons at the beginning of "House of Cards" on Radiohead's new album In Rainbows. Whoa, what's this? Directness, sexiness, enunciation, on a Radiohead album? Yes and no, and that's the beauty of their latest album, available via download only for the time being at the band's dedicated website . The initial talk had been centered on the novelty and surprise of this release method and the pay your own price strategy, but now that those of us who put in our orders have had a chance to live with the album discussion has turned to the music itself.

The last few albums like Hail to the Thief and the double-whammy of Kid A and Amnesiac grew increasingly claustrophobic and clammy, dense with sound and freighted with paranoia and gloom. In Rainbows isn't exactly The Spice Girls but the production has opened up to let in air and space, allowing the songs to breathe and move. The music itself isn't radically different than what they've done in the past but it's more approachable without being dumbed down. The newly clever arrangements insure that there are a few things happening at once in isolation before expanding and contracting in a big screen version of the sonic playfulness that's become a hallmark of Spoon's sound.

This also allows for a renewed appreciation for Colin Greenwood's fluid bass playing, with fills and filigrees peppering songs like "All I Need", while strings swoop in and out without dominating or overpowering any track. Thom Yorke's voice is wonderfully elastic, as usual, but there is a new clarity in a lot of these songs -- he's no longer afraid to spend at least part of most of these songs in the front of the mix.

Overall the sound is closer to Hail to The Thief's guitar based songwriting than Kid A's more drum and bass electronica, though opener "15 Step" comes close with it's chopped up rhythm track. The band may not be doing anything new here, or making a leap in musical conception (i.e. the leap from The Bends to OK Computer) as bold as it's leap in commercial presentation, but In Rainbows stands with some of their most invigorating and sheer listenable work.

Four out of five downloads:

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