I was eleven years old in 1993 when the Internet was just starting to explode into our lives. That makes me just about old enough to say I grew up with the Internet, but just about young enough to notice how completely it was changing my world. After living with it and all it brings for twenty years and more there's little left that truly offends me, and yet I find myself accused (either directly or indirectly) of being offended and over-reacting rather regularly. So what's going on there?

I don't find it particularly surprising that little respect is given to the idea of offence. "People are so easily offended, these days," it is said. It rather conjours images of people reacting with horror to some "un-PC" joke, their monocles dropping into their teacups from the sheer consternation of it all.

Thought of in that way, it all seems so avoidable. You see this in the language used - "I don't know why people choose to be offended by this," that sort of thing. If people would just relax (which ought to be easy for people my age and younger who have grown up with all the offence the Internet has to offer) then all of this silliness could be avoided, right?

The trouble is, the monocle-dropping caricature of what's happening when someone is 'offended' doesn't bear much relation to what's actually going on. While it's not quite true to say nothing shocks me anymore, my (and I suspect many other people's) initial reaction is usually something more akin to a world-weary rolling of the eyes. 

But it doesn't matter how offended I am or appear to be. The truth is, whether and how someone is offended is at best a symptom, a side effect of what's really wrong.

Defending those 'edgy' jokes just because you don't think there's anything wrong with offending people is a bit like defending the Hunger Games just because you don't think there's anything wrong with kids getting a little competitive. People who have this view haven't just managed to ignore the elephant in the room. They've managed to mistake a mouse for the elephant.

So in a way, I can understand their puzzlement when it is suggested to them there's more to this story. When the discussion is framed in terms of offence, it limits the scope to hurt feelings, diverts attention away from more serious forms of harm.

Before I go on, a quick note. I'm going to talk about this in terms of homophobia, because that's what is closest to my personal experience, but really I'm talking about all forms of stereotyping, prejudice, bigotry. If there's something else that you relate to, I'm pretty sure that you'll be able to find something you recognise in this too.

I want to make what I hope are a few uncontroversial points which I think outline the real discussion which is being missed when people get distracted by this word 'offence'. 

1) Prejudice doesn't come from nowhere

There's a notion, one that appears particularly appealing to defenders of homophobia, that their reactions of discomfort, disgust even, is simply a normal human reaction. That while they "don't have anything against" LGBTQ+ people, expecting straight people not to react negatively to seeing, say, a gay couple kiss in public or hold hands is a step too far. After all, they are not attracted to that, so their reaction is normal. 

It's an argument that has some superficial draw, and had I been straight I might have even believed it myself if I was never forced to think about it too much. But as many LGBTQ+ people will tell you, before they came out to anyone else they had to come out to themselves. Having gone through that process I understand only too well how I was weirded out by my own feelings. How when I first took my tentative steps towards exploring my sexuality my reaction was initially of extreme discomfort that I never experienced with 'straight stuff'. The only reason I can think this would be the case is that I learned exactly the same latent homophobia that everyone else learned, and I had to unlearn it before I could even be honest with myself.

So when I say prejudice doesn't come from nowhere, I mean that it is acquired, learned - in many cases even by the victims of that prejudice.

2) We learn through exposure

I hope that it's not controversial to say that we learn through exposure, but when I talk about exposure I mean on every conceivable level. Think of how you learned the words you read on this page now. Some of them your teachers or others might have explained to you, or you looked up, but a whole lot of them you just absorbed through context, over time. They're second nature to you now and you probably can't identify a single point when you acquired them, but they didn't just get there by magic.

Intuitively, it's a similar thing with attitudes. They didn't just get there by magic. We keep a lot of the attitudes we are taught, but also we acquire them based on what we are exposed to, and anything else is abnormal, other. Obviously this is a simplification, but it's a servicable one. And thought about that way it's easy to see how a LGBTQ+ person can grow up with latent homophobia. You can believe intellectually and feel emotionally what you like about homosexuality, but that's still not going to trump years and years of exposure, without considerable effort.

I grew up on a diet of films, books, games and so forth that celebrated straight relationships and very little else. Right now it's quite common to have a bit of LGBTQ+ representation in a TV series or film, though I do think we're still not very good at this at all for reasons that are probably out of scope for this discussion. For the first decade of my life homosexuality as a concept wasn't even something I was even aware of. And that left only a couple of years before I would start to have to contend with my own feelings.

My exposure to homosexuality when it did come was almost entirely through news stories where someone coming out was a big and controversial deal, playground insults, jokes on television which probably would not be broadcast now. I was well into my mid-teens before I encountered a positive portrayal of a gay relationship. So it's no surprise that it took me several years to even understand and recognise that I was attracted to guys, and then longer to come to terms with the fact. 

I have mostly been free of mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, I have an extremely supportive and loving family, I live in a society that is mostly on the more tolerant end of the spectrum. Yet it still took me years to figure out something that straight people don't even have to think about. Is it so hard to imagine that someone whose circumstances are less ideal than mine have a much bigger struggle? 

This is why visibility is so important, both in quality and quantity. This is why trying to encourage more LGBT representation in characters, especially protagonists isn't simply attention-seeking behaviour. And this is why when we see representations that are more harmful than good, or jokes that rely on lazy stereotyping, it's so frustrating. It isn't just "political correctness gone mad." It's not an exaggeration to say that lives could be improved, even saved by media that makes people feel less alone where their own circumstances, peers and families let them down.

And even if you think that's all bunk, I'm yet to hear a good argument as to why LGBTQ+ shouldn't have representation in the media that's proportional with reality. Because right now it's not even close - you do realise that, right? If it bothers you that this game has a lesbian couple or that TV series has a bisexual protagonist because it seems somehow 'forced' to you, I'd be curious to how you'd feel if the numbers actually represented the world at large.

3) This stuff gets everywhere

When I was at school, I went on a skiing trip. We were four boys to a room, and one of them in particular was only too happy to make his homophobic views known, at just about the time that I had just come to acknowledge my own sexuality but was still thoroughly closeted. A self proclaimed homophobe who declared that he thought gay people should be taken out and shot, I wasn't about to say a thing that might give him any reason at all to suspect that I ought to be a target of his hatred. But I saw his homophobic bullying of plenty of people I'm now fairly sure are either straight or bisexual, since they are now married to women. Including another person staying in our room.

Homophobia doesn't just cause problems for gay people. No, it's a stick to beat anyone with who seems a little bit different, not just "one of the lads." And it's very easy just to shrug and say things like "boys will be boys" and assume that most will grow out of it. But some don't, and as we've seen it's hard to shrug off years of exposure to negative attitudes, even if you believe yourself to be more open minded.

I'm not trying to appeal to your selfish nature just by saying 'look, you can be a victim too!' The biggest harm is completely invisible to most people, until they're forced to look at it.

Straight guys, try an experiment: imagine two men kissing in public. Does the thought make you uncomfortable in any way? Does it gross you out even a little bit, for even a second? Longer?

Here, I'll help you out if you're feeling maybe it does but you usually think better of yourself: I am still not completely over seeing gay people show affection in public, despite being out for nearly half my life. It still gives me a bit of a jolt of discomfort in a way seeing straight people kiss doesn't, probably because I only see it happening in public on very rare occasions. 

Part of that is because there are a lot more straight people, true. But even taking that into account if gay people were as willing to display affection publicly as straight people you should be seeing examples of it several times every week, and I doubt many of you are. Doesn't take too much imagination to figure out why that might be.

But because I don't see it several times every week, my first reaction is thinking 'oh, weird' before I process what I'm looking and mentally tell myself off for that reaction. So, seriously, if seeing this does weird you out then I understand. You're probably not a terrible person. But recognise it for what it is - a learned response based on what you've been exposed to growing up.

If, as a socially liberal-minded person, that though makes you a little angry, then yes - it probably should. 


Where all this takes us is that being offended no longer seems like an extravagance, a chosen reaction with no utility once you lose the assumption that offence is as far as it goes, as far as it could ever go. It's easy to shrug off a percieved overreaction. Harder to shrug off bullying, a beating, a suicide. Harder to shrug off a mass shooting. 

It's not that every off-colour remark or joke at the expense of LGBTQ+ people is going kill people, and perhaps that's the issue. People have trouble connecting the dots. It's just that every time you tell one, it's like a little doggie treat that you're throwing as a reward for the idea that LGBTQ+ people, when visible at all, should be mocked, othered, and rejected as a normal part of society*, and it helps perpetuate those same attitudes that even I acquired. Hence that Pavlovian response I still, to this day and despite being in a ten year relationship, experience when I see a same-gender display of affection where I don't expect. 

So what should you really be angry about, what makes you want to change the world? 

That some people protest when they see certain kinds of things that belittle or stereotype sections of society?

Or that society has trained even those of us who believe ourselves to be inclusive and accepting to feel uncomfortable when two people kiss?

I hope I've managed to explain how these two things are connected.

The second one is what I want to do something about, and I have and will gladly modify my behaviour where needed. There are, after all, an infinite amount of jokes I can still tell and points I can still make - and I don't think anyone who knows me would claim I've lost my sense of humour. If anything, I wield jokes with greater precision now, because I'm more careful not to resort to lazy phrases or simplifications. I've even consciously removed a couple of lazy words from my vocabulary, which required effort at first but no longer does. I dont miss them because they've been replaced by more thoughtful words which actually get closer to what I really meant.

Does that mean I worry about offending people? That I'm censoring myself because of that? It's not really something I think about, if I'm particularly honest. I just don't want someone, somewhere to feel smaller, either indirectly or directly because of something I did. Because I understand where that goes and I want no part of it.


*It is possible to use satire to give the appearance of bigotry while actually cleverly doing the opposite, and this is a frequent defense that is given. But if the Internet has taught me anything it's that few people have the knack for weilding satire as a precision comedy tool. Satire is a more specific thing than 'it was just a joke,' and claiming satire isn't a magic shield to protect you from criticism. 

Posted
AuthorPeter Silk

Every week the rules of the 'Weekly Brawl' mode of Overwatch change, and this week the rules are something called Mystery Heroes. Regardless of what character a player picks, they'll be shuffled into a random one at the start, and reshuffled with every death. No manual swapping is allowed, so you have to get what you're given. 

And it's so good. Here's why I think this mode should be a permanent addition to the game.

1) It teaches you how characters work in a multiplayer but pressure-free environment.

In this game mode almost nobody is getting what they want and you'll almost certainly end up with characters you wouldn't usually play or even enjoy but have to make the most of it anyway. You might even find, like I did, that you had a certain knack for some characters you'd never usually touch. 

But even if not, it can only be good for understanding what makes those characters tick, though because the team compositions are so weird, you'll often end up using them in a weird way. Which brings me to...

2) It forces you to get creative because of suboptimal character choices.

I draw Torbjörn on an attack escort team, and assume I'll be finished off quickly. But then I notice a route out of the base that nobody is watching and take a side path all the way around to behind where the enemy are pushing back, and set up my turret there. It's a play I'd never think to make in a regular match on the attack, but my goodness it worked here.

Mystery Heroes makes you think like this a lot. And these sorts of considerations compound when you add in the mess the rest of your team might be in. Which takes us to...

3) It forces you to accept and work with suboptimal teams.

This is related, but in public matches you are always going to get team compositions that seem off, or players not experienced enough to understand when what they are choosing isn't working. That can be frustrating and many players are more than willing to vent this frustration.

But I always find figuring out the best way to support my broken team is better than moaning about it. This mode encouragess, nay, requires the former by taking control out of the players' hands, and makes weird team composition a constantly shifting problem to solve. Are you the third Mercy in your team right now? Make it work. Are you caught without support? Find other ways to survive.

4) It makes ultimates feel like an achievement.

Because ultimates reset when you switch character, the only way to pull off an ultimate in this mode is to survive long enough to build it up in a single life. While far from impossible, and quite easy for some characters, this does make the moment more special when you activate something that genuinely helps the team. 

5) It's just funny!

The whole randomisation of team compositions takes the pressure off of playing. Nobody expects you to play your character perfectly, and everyone knows you're going to have to play against your role sometimes. But when some odd combination works it can produce the most exciting swings in a battle, or victories that can't help but make you laugh, like the offensive escort win we scored with two Torbjörns and Zenyattas. Sure, sometimes you might get a player that rages against the random number generator that keeps giving them players they hate, but generally the whole atmosphere is lifted by the fact that sensible character choices and team composition is taken out of your hands and replaced by this rollercoaster of fun. 

In short, the random character mode isn't going to teach you anything about surgical team composition or playing a particular role perfectly. But it's going to teach you about how to have fun and do well with the game when things are less than optimal, less that perfect. Which, let's face it, is most of the time.

Posted
AuthorPeter Silk
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Radiohead were an important band for me, and I don't think in the same way as they're an important band for most fans. I think that most would say things about the band being able to put a sound to what they were feeling, or something along those lines. And, sure: while I was never particularly wracked with angst, I was around sixteen years of age when I first encountered their music in 1998, and so they came at a time when my emotions were becoming more complex, when I was starting to understand myself better. It would be impossible to deny that the band had an effect on how I saw myself and the world. But to me they also represent the point where I came out of my shell, musically, and ended many many years of feeling very alienated by modern music.

For about a decade (between 1998 and 2008) I followed the band very closely, and then after that I just gradually stopped. By that point I had lots of other musical interests, and I found myself wanting to listen to the albums less. My rather indifferent reaction to 2011's The King of Limbs seemed to confirm to me that I just wasn't that interested anymore. And so there was a stretch of years where I barely listened to Radiohead at all, except by accident.

But it's hard to just discard music that has been part of your life for so many years. Lately I've made a decision to start collecting albums, and that has forced me to look at all the music I've ever loved and figure out where I stand with it. So I've been listening to every Radiohead album again, with fresh ears, revisiting it with far less bias than I would have been capable of when I was a dedicated fan.

What I discovered is that actually, I'm still a fan, but some of these albums sound quite different after that long break.

Pablo Honey

I suppose I should be grateful for this album, given that it was the single, Creep that kept them going long enough to produce the far superior follow up. Or, "We are grateful for our iron lung," as Thom Yorke would later put it in song.

I have to admit, while it was always my least favourite album of theirs, this has actually worsened with time. Tiptoeing around Creep for a moment, there's Stop Whispering, so bland that it's hard to believe that it was worth dedicating five and a half minutes to on an album of mainly 3-4 minute songs. There's Thinking About You, an acoustic piece which is like Bob Dylan but without the poetry or having anything to say. Very little hints that the band might be doing more interesting things in the future, aside from the closer, Blow Out, with its more creative melody and pleasingly noisy outro.

Then there's Creep, of course. Loved by many, and a perfectly passable song to be sure, to me it always just sounded like a slightly limp showtune. Inoffensive, but remarkably... uh, unremarkable. Which is probably a good enough assessment of the album as a whole.

The Bends

When I first heard this album I was already rather familiar with OK Computer, and it was immediately apparent to me that this was less of an achievement, but as I listen to it now the gap feels even wider.

While The Bends is still full of incredibly good songs, I found my mind wandering in the second half. This was particularly noticeable during the three song run of Bullet Proof... I Wish I Was, Black Star and Sulk. The first I just don't find very interesting, the second was never a favourite, and Sulk came as quite a surprise. I always had a soft spot for this song, which is usually not considered one of their best, but on this fresh listen it left me quite cold and struggling to recall what I saw in it. 

But it's hard to argue with the rest of the album. It's undoubtedly the start of Radiohead as an Interesting Band™, even if it's hard to listen to High and Dry without thinking of the dozens of imitators that followed, and even if some of the heavier moments now feel strange to go back to now that the band works with a much broader palette.

There's still room for Just, Street Spirit (Fade Out), Fake Plastic Trees and Planet Telex on any list of the finest songs the band has recorded, which is quite something, considering what was to come.

OK Computer

Ahh, my first Radiohead album. Years ago, someone asked me how I could enjoy such miserable music. Firstly, I think that Radiohead's status as a miserable band is very overstated. They make little musical jokes frequently, they use obviously tongue-in-cheek lyrical phrases rather regularly too. It's not all as po-faced as it might first appear, and there are quite a few hopeful songs mixed in too. But it's certainly true that they're not the most cheerful band, and all I could say to that person at the time is that great music never brings me down. 

On that point, I have never once listened to OK Computer without feeling uplifted by the end.

Sometime in the 2000s it became rather unfashionable among Radiohead fans to praise OK Computer. While the album was itself a departure for the band, it still remained far closer to their earlier work than the surprising Kid A. Casual listeners would often talk about wanting the 'old' Radiohead back, by which they meant Bends/OK Computer era Radiohead, and I think some artificial lines were being drawn between those who wholly embraced the new sounds, and those who were 'stuck in the ways of old'. 

So there was this bizarre situation of all these Radiohead fans who grew to love the band through The Bends or OK Computer but didn't like to praise them too loudly in case people thought they weren't into the new stuff. Silly, really. I think it's calmed down, since. But I think even I had somehow managed to persuade myself that OK Computer was a work from a lesser period. 

Well, screw all that. Listening to this again, it's a classic - obviously so, and I feel rather embarrassed that this wasn't in my regular listening rotation for years. It's a phenomenal piece of work, every bit deserving of the attention it recieved at the time and subsequently. It sounds as good today as it did nearly two decades ago, and it feels so timeless that I find it very difficult to put precisely into words what makes it work so well. 

It's a heightening and bettering of all the potential that The Bends revealed. It's the songwriting, yes. But also the sequencing, how I can't even imagine these songs in some other order, the menace that seems to hide behind even the prettier moments. As a mood piece, it has only since been topped by Kid A. And so I think it's safe to say this is one album which has definitely benefited from my Radiohead hiatus.

Kid A

Kid A was the first album I loved which I actually remember getting released. In 2000, downloading music in bulk was just about becoming viable, so people were just about starting to get hints of what the album might sound like prior to release in the form of live shows that would spread around on Napster and private sites. But we didn't really know what to expect. These were some strange songs, and it was very hard to figure out how they might sound in the studio. Publicity was done via little more than a series of 'blips' - a series of videos featuring clips, only a few seconds long (at the time about the only way to keep them Internet-friendly), which hinted at something far stranger than what had come before.

As it turns out, Kid A is hardly as impenetrable as its reputation would have you believe.  

I'm relieved about it, really. Of all the albums it was the one I was most nervous about revisiting. In my head, it was my favourite Radiohead album, but I wondered if it was because of all the baggage around the release, the fact that it was the first album I really anticipated. I wanted to like it so much, and when it came out it was so unexpected. Was I overcompensating by declaring it my favourite?

Nah. It's great. It's everything that I like about albums as a format. There are plenty of good songs here, but every single one feels elevated when played in sequence. I can barely even think of a song outside of the context of what comes before and after it, yet for all of that it's a very diverse album. It has weird electronic 'bleeps and bloops' as music journalists of the time liked to say. It has moody organ stuff. It has frantic jazz horns. Sweeping strings. The only time it seems to sit still is for Treefingers, and by that point I'm usually happy to take a breath.

But it's not obtuse, as some would accuse it. Half the songs even follow a pretty traditional verse-chorus template, and even the ones that don't aren't tricky to penetrate. The National Anthem may be mostly instrumental and full of free improvising horns but the bass line and drums underpinning it keeps it anchored to the ground, and I think it's no coincidence that the album's most chaotic moment is followed up by the most straightforward. Later, Morning Bell follows a strange, unsettling structure but it's not inscrutable. Like I said, the art of the album is all about each song elevating the songs around it, and I can think of few albums that do that job as well as Kid A.

Amnesiac

Sorry, Amnesiac, but you're the straight-to-video sequel to Kid A

I don't mean to be cruel, but that's how I felt, revisiting this album. It's not to say that it doesn't have wonderful moments. Pyramid Song is still beautiful, Life In A Glass House even better than I remember, and Like Spinning Plates one of their more successful purely electronic experiments, for my money.

But songs I used to tolerate back when I was desperate to like everything Radiohead did give me much more trouble now. Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors is four minutes of ugly percussion which I now feel free to admit I never enjoyed. Morning Bell/Amnesiac feels like a pretty but pointless retread of the Kid A song, though I do like the creepy organ counterpoint. But there's something else...

Even though this album was recorded in the same sessions as Kid A, unlike that album it features some early signs of a harsh, bleak production style that never worked for me. 

It's hard to describe what I mean by this exactly, but to me I imagine it as if of the parts of the song were recorded in seperate soundproof booths, often with a very close-mic sound, and then brought together again after the fact. It was especially noticeable having heard a lot of these songs live, and then disheartening to hear the life sucked out of them on the recording.

Not many of the songs here suffer from this, but I think I Might Be Wrong and Knives Out both get this lacklustre treatment. I mention it now because it's going to come up again. But that about wraps up Amnesiac for me: sorry, it's no Kid A.

Hail to the Thief

Even though it's not a double album, Hail to the Thief feels a bit like a double album that would be better as a single album. I think even Thom Yorke saw this, a few years later digging up and posting online a shorter, rearranged (and in my opinion much superior) tracklisting.

The album is bloated, it's easy to see now. And the part that I dislike most about the bloatedness is that a lot of the songs filling it out suffer from that same 'whatever happened to the excitement of the live version?' problem that seemed to begin with Amnesiac.

It might be partially my fault from getting so used to the live versions and then listening to studio versions which are inevitably more calculated. But I don't think that's all it is. Backdrifts I had never heard live and yet somehow suffers from this problem, simultaneously having this rather (by this point) bland electronic production, and very close vocals, and actually not being a particularly brilliant song in the first place.

See? I'm so annoyed by this that I'm having trouble forming coherent sentences about it. 

Elsewhere, We Suck Young Blood is gets all of the mystery driven out of it by that same dry vocal treatment, amplified by some intensely annoying backing vocals. I Will, a song which actually has an much better full-band version called the LA Version on an EP, here is stripped down and stark. Perhaps that's the point, and if so, well made, but I know which approach my ears prefer. And especially Punch Up At A Wedding, which as a song I was very excited for in the live versions, ended up anaemic, plodding along limply. 

I don't want to be too down on Hail to the Thief because I think, with some of this stuff stripped out, it could really be one of Radiohead's best. I even love Sail to the Moon, which I think is much more beautiful a melody than it ever gets credit for. 

In Rainbows

By the time In Rainbows came out, I remember having come to terms with the fact I was disappointed by Hail To The Thief. And I also remember the relief I felt. "The songs sound like they've been recorded in an actual place and time. They have an atmosphere again, like Kid A and OK Computer." That's what I would tell people who were yet to hear it.

Do I still feel that way? Yes, sort of. I think my response to this one is a little more tempered now. I think I was reacting to the sheer quality of the songs, which were Radiohead's strongest collection in ages. But in retrospect, I don't love everything about how they were produced. 

Nude, for example, was a highly anticipated song which had been kicking around for years - and the version here is a fine version. It has some of the same starkness of the version of I Will I criticised earlier, but here it feels appropriate. But I don't think the extremely compressed, harsh sounds of the drums on this track do it any favours, and remind me a little of some things I disliked about the previous two albums.

Then there's Videotape. I was on a high by the time I reached the end of the album. It had been a triumph. And I expected Videotape to be a sort of victory lap. In live performances it had built to a euphoric crescendo, and I was eagerly waiting for it to kick in.

It never does. Instead, it reaches a certain low-intensity, stays there, driven along by stuttering percussion, and then just dies off at the end. This approach might have been perfect, on a different album. But I feel like In Rainbows had earned its victory lap. I wanted to hear that crescendo so badly that it couldn't feel like anything other than an anticlimax.

As time has passed, it's nowhere near as disappointing as it was at the time, and I acknowledge this version of Videotape undoubtedly has its charm. But I still think of what might have been. Nevertheless, In Rainbows remains one Radiohead's finest albums, and will certainly be going back into my regular rotation.

The King of Limbs

By this point, my interest had waned somewhat, so I was rather surprised to find out that a new album was ready. Admittedly so was everyone - they announced it only a few days before release. So I had no clue what to expect.

Well, I did not get on with it at all. The first half of the album was interesting ideas that felt way overproduced. The band felt missing, it seemed like more of a Thom Yorke side project than something that Radiohead would rehearse together (although the In The Basement recordings I subsequently listened to show that actually many of these songs work exceedingly well, live).

They even managed to ruin a song I already knew again, Morning Mr. Magpie, previously a bluesy guitar number had the blues ripped out and replaced with skittish drums and muted guitar. At least when they completely changed Reckoner for In Rainbows (you can hear the link if you listen very carefully), the results were beautiful! Feral is one of Radiohead's less annoying electronic noodles, but it's still an electronic noodle, and there are other groups I now feel I can go to if I want to hear that done brilliantly.

The second half is much more successful, but so low energy that I found it hard to get excited about, despite moments of obvious beauty. More on that in a sec.

At least it was short? Growing up on The Beatles, I'm rather fond of short albums.

A few years later, and I still feel the same about this one, except somehow it's grown on me a bit. I still dislike the first half as much as ever, but the final run of four songs really is beautifully done. Sadly, I don't like to listen to half-albums. So I've done something that I don't usually do - I've changed the album.

The Other King of Limbs, as I call it, comes from the fact that I discovered Radiohead released a few other songs in the wake of the album, almost all of which I vastly prefer to the opening tracks. So I've switched three tracks out for those. I don't think I've got it perfect, yet, but I'm pleased that I've found a way to listen to the most recent work that I don't have to grimace through, and I'll be giving it some more listens for sure. The Daily Mail, one of my swap-ins, is one of the finest songs they've committed to record.

Conclusion

In all of this, I've learned two things:

1) I don't like all of Radiohead, and that's okay.

2) Wooow, I still really like a whole bunch of Radiohead!

It's good to have them back, and to be excited once more for where they go next. 
 

Posted
AuthorPeter Silk

I love albums.

Here are ten of my favourite in no particular order, and why I like them. 

I've also listed 5 that very nearly made the list, and might have done if I'd written this during a different week. 

The only rule was that I was only allowed one album per artist, for the sake of variety.

The Beatles - Abbey Road

Not as obviously influential as some of their earlier works, but features some of their best performances, captured very well. It also very much influenced my idea of what an album could be, not just because of the remarkable run of song fragments on Side 2, but the sequencing of the whole thing. Especially that cutoff at the end of I Want You (She's So Heavy), followed by Here Comes The Sun, the perfect musical picture of sun breaking through the clouds. Not bad, for a group that half the time could barely stand to be in the same room together, by this point.

Favourite Tracks: I Want You (She's So Heavy); Oh! Darling; Because

Elliott Smith - Figure 8

A bigger sound than on most of Elliott Smith's previous albums, but I don't think the songwriting suffers at all because of it. There's barely a wasted moment here, with high points dotted all along the way. Full of harmonic and melodic sophistication, nevertheless this isn't ostensibly the most surprising or unusual album on my list. But sometimes just being an outstanding and cohesive collection of songs is enough, and it is in this case. I'm unsurprised to learn that it was partly recorded at Abbey Road; there are moments where this sounds like an album that The Beatles never released.

Favourite Tracks: Wouldn't Mama Be Proud; Son of Sam; Stupidity Tries

Deerhoof - The Runners Four

It was actually very difficult to decide which album to pick between this Offend Maggie or Friend Opportunity. In the end I decided that out of all the bands on this list, Deerhoof probably fits the description of 'live band' best. I love their albums, but seeing a show is something else. The Runners Four is, in my opinion, the best approximation of seeing them live that they've recorded. There are some remarkable guitar and drum performances here that sound as if they were caught in the moment rather than meticulously planned. Yet it doesn't simply sound like a setlist - it retains a level of musical cohesion that I'd associate with the best albums out there, for all of its rawness and noise.

Favourite Tracks: Wrong Time Capsule; You Can See; Siriustar

Radiohead - Kid A

For some people this was the album where Radiohead went off the rails. Yet many, me included, still regard this as a high point in the band's career, and not just to appear intellectual for 'getting it'. Indeed, I think their subsequent albums have so far been less successful attempts to go down a similar road, with the exception of In Rainbows. Kid A feels very immediate to me. OK Computer is an easier listen and beautiful in its own right, but Kid A takes me to more interesting places. What the two have in common is that they both feel as if they were recorded in a very specific time and place. That might sound like nonsense - and perhaps it is. Nevertheless I think some of their albums feel sterile, as if recorded in a vacuum (yes, I know that doesn't work). This has an atmosphere. Don't ask me to explain the difference!

Favourite Tracks: How to Disappear Completely; In Limbo; The National Anthem

Blur - 13

A lot of people in the UK know Blur for a collection of jangly, often tongue-in-cheek britpop hits in the mid 1990s. In the US they're mainly known for Song 2 and nothing else. But like many good bands they're respected by music fans for constantly evolving and playing with their sound, and that shows up best on their albums. 13 is one of the wilder experiments. There's a lot of variety on offer here, from the opening gospel-tinged twang of Tender through the meditative swirl of chords on 1992, to the grungy chords of Trimm Trabb. But it never fails to feel like part of the same work, partly thanks to light use of connecting musical passages between songs. Like almost all of my favourite albums, no matter how interesting things get sonically, there is a strong emphasis on melody at work here, that helps ground the work and make it feel more immediate.

Favourite Tracks: 1992; Trimm Trabb; Caramel

Andrew Bird - The Mysterious Production of Eggs

I enjoy Andrew Bird's work in general, but the period from The Swimming Hour to The Mysterious Production of Eggs represents, to my ears, his best compromise between simply having fun and trying to create work of a more substantial quality. The excellent Swimming Hour possibly errs closer to fun, and my choice here a little more towards invention. I find myself listening to either depending on whether I'm after something more playful or something more interesting. Mysterious Production almost completely ditches the old-timeyness of some of his older records for a more modern folk-pop-rock sound, but never at the expense of sounding interesting. It's a lovely little sound world full of melodies, nice production touches, moments of playfulness followed by great beauty. 

Favourite Tracks: A Nervous Tic Motion of the Head to the Left; Opposite Day; Skin Is, My

Broadcast - The Noise Made By People

I never understood why the concensus rates follow-ups Haha Sound and Tender Buttons higher than The Noise Made by people. They're certainly sonically more adventurous, but as always I like my adventurousness rooted in melodicism, and it's in this aspect that I think The Noise Made By People wins out every time. It's hardly the only one on my list to hark back to the 1960s, but it's perhaps the most immediately accessible. Songs like Come On Lets Go, Papercuts, Look Outside and City in Progress are such perfect pop gems that they sound like they've always existed, and the quieter moments of the album complement them very well.

Favourite Tracks: Come On, Let's Go; Papercuts; Look Outside

The Olivia Tremor Control - Black Foliage: Animation Music

Intuitively, I'm always a little wary of bands which try to emulate a particular era of music, because there's something that feels a little insincere about that as an idea. But who am I kidding? I have Andrew Bird, Elliott Smith, Broadcast on this list, all bands known to dabble in pastiche to a greater or lesser extent. And here we have The Olivia Tremor control with a piece of unmistakeably 1960s pschedelic pop, released in 1999. This isn't an easy listen. There are a lot of hard-to-penetrate instrumental and sound-collage sections but it rewards a patient listener as this earthy bed is seeded throughout with catchy pop tunes of outstanding quality. Give it a few tries. 

Favourite Tracks: Hideaway; I Have Been Floated; A Place We Have Been To 

The Fiery Furnaces - Blueberry Boat

This was the first Fiery Furnaces album that I heard, and I was very excited to hear more afterwards. Sadly, in this case, I feel their other work doesn't even nearly match. Not that it's bad - just that none of it fired my imagination in the same way. This album seems to skip effortlessly between pitch perfect pop to noisy, rough-sounding stuff and everywhere in between (sometimes in the space of a single song). Yet it's one of those magic albums that, like a few others on this list, magically still comes off sounding like it's all pulling in the same direction. Not without elements of pastiche, nevertheless this feels like a much more modern take on psychedelic pop, in contrast with my previous choice. And a very successful take, at that.

Favourite Tracks: Chris Michaels; Blueberry Boat; Mason City

Cardiacs - Sing To God

It's hard to get away from the fact that Cardiacs are weird. Complex but at the same time often very raw sounding, intricate while still very melodically focused, and with the tendency to write songs about things like rearranging dogs to give them parts from various other animals. So it's not easy listening. But it's also not just weird for weirdness' sake. There's a level of craft here that is rare, an embarrassment of musical ideas in this double album that is utterly irresistable once the ear becomes adjusted to the idiosyncracies. It's catchy without being trite, it's complex without being impenetrable, and it's one of the most exciting things I've ever heard.

Favourite Tracks: Manhoo; Dog Like Sparky; Dirty Boy


Five albums that could easily have made this list: 
Belle and Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister
Decemberists - Picaresque
The New Pornographers - Electric Version
Tortoise - TNT
Pixies - Doolitle

 

Posted
AuthorPeter Silk