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3. Radiohead – Pyramid Song

21/12/2009

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Radiohead expended so much energy this decade on making music that was wilfully cold and machined that on the relatively few occasions that they turned off their laptops and allowed themselves to feel rather than calculate, the results were spine-tingling. Pyramid Song is the champion version of these efforts, the zenith of Radiohead’s soulful side, precisely because no computer or sequencer could simulate it. The push-pull rhythm of Yorke’s piano motif, the way the drums hang back off the beat, the string surges and eerie backing vocals – every sinew of the track is unmistakeably handmade. Sure, undeniable cerebral effort has gone into choosing the notes and crafting the arrangement, but what really shines in Pyramid Song is the languid, fluid musicianship – it’s a complete song that doesn’t require scholarly devices to make it work: it just is.
      Radiohead’s adventures in the noughties into electronica and the like contained much to admire, enjoy and study. Their experiments with oblique time signatures and instrumentation were at times spell-binding. But, more often than not, these intellectual pursuits masked their true strength. Bulletproof, Climbing Up the Walls, Exit Music (For A Film) – these are tracks straight from the gut, not the head, and Pyramid Song is another. In terms of intellectualism in rock, Radiohead are leagues ahead of most other bands, but songs like Pyramid Song remind us that they are also the best group of their generation at creating an atmosphere and intensity that is visceral, lush and defiantly human.

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