Radiohead was the most important band in the world to me between the ages of 13 and 25 or so. No other music can ever do to me what Radiohead did then, when my wiring was at its most fragile. Their mark is indelible, not only as shepherds of my musical taste, but as the emotional language my brain adopted to survive my teenage years.
It’s a weird thing to be a brooding, introverted kid, find the band whose music speaks to you in the most profoundly personal way, and then learn they’re the favorite band of an entire generation of introverted kids just like you. In retrospect, learning this was really validating for me – at a time when I felt disconnected from people, I understood I wasn’t alone.
I am very much not a teenager anymore. OK Computer and Kid A – the best albums of the ‘90s AND the ‘00s respectively, if you trust Pitchfork on such matters (and I certainly did at the time) – will soon both be over 20 years old. So, in the 2010s, what does Radiohead mean? What does the most important band in the world to a generation of sad teens do when those sad teens don’t exist anymore?
On A Moon Shaped Pool, their ninth LP, they found a surprisingly simple answer: age. Expose the toll the years have taken. You can’t resonate with your audience at the same extremes you did two decades ago, but there’s a different kind of power in showing where we’ve all arrived.
This unflinching focus on time is central in the video for “Daydreaming” (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, which I suppose is one of the perks of being beloved by arty types). A grizzled Thom Yorke walks in and out of doors, over and over, through seemingly disconnected environments: homes, parking garages, stairwells, a hospital, a beach. People flash by in the background, visible too briefly to leave more than a fleeting impression of what they’re doing. Finally, Yorke scales a snowy hill and climbs into a small cave. His voice, backwards and distorted, repeats the phrase “half of my life,” reflecting the duration of his recently-collapsed marriage with the mother of his two children. The effect of the music and visuals together is powerful, compressing the expanse of 23 years into 23 doors with barely a moment spent between each.
I’ve seen Radiohead live eight times. The first was shortly before my eleventh birthday, when they were R.E.M.’s opener and I had no idea who they were. The eighth was last year. The journey between the first and last was unquantifiably immense, impossible to explain in words. Radiohead opened the most recent show with “Daydreaming,” and it was an amazing night.