Friday, October 12, 2007

15 Step

I’ve heard In Rainbows about five times now, enough to know I like it, but too soon for any definitive statements. (Sorry, Alice. Sorry, Thom.) Meantime, I thought I’d hold you with a quick description of the first track “15 Step” which so far strikes me as one of the best on the album and lends itself well to the sort of "evidence gathering" that was supposed to be happening here from day one.

As usual, I haven’t paid much attention to lyrics, but the title makes a sort of musical sense when you consider the piece is in 5/4 meter. (If you were in music school and an incredible nerd, you might make up a 15 step dance and feel confident you were staying in time. Most other pop songs, in 3/4 or 4/4, would require a 12 or 16 step - just fyi.)

Anyway, the piece opens in this awkward meter with annoyingly trebly drums to match. Yorke’s voice when it enters provides relief and contrast. His melody, somewhat unusual for this band, is blues-based, and he delivers it in a smooth croon that reminds me of a young Michael Jackson.

It’s a stark introduction – just Yorke and drums – but the ear doesn’t miss much as the vocal melody traces chords and implies its own harmony. That said, it’s another relief when the guitars come in after two cycles, fleshing out the harmony and providing more smooth textures in contrast to the drums.

With the guitar in, and a few measures later a deep melodic bass, the melody intensifies and you think you’ve arrived at the chorus. Could be, but then it lasts longer than the purported verse and you never get it exactly the same way twice. Like a lot of great Radiohead songs (“2+2 = 5” and “Paranoid Android” come immediately to mind) “15 Step” moves in a straight line rather than cyclically.

The rest of the song rides the chorus-like groove with a few cool touches along the way: a group of kids (see above) whooping as the beat snaps back around, a sudden reverb blur as Yorke intones “15 Step,” a melodic swell during a breakdown which I still can’t place as vocals or synth.

The lyrics from what little I gather are classic Yorke ready-mades: “cat get your tongue,” “won’t take my eyes off the ball again,” “reel me out and cut the string.” Yorke, as always, seems to have a lot on his mind, but I think sound usually trumps sense in these songs. (Perhaps the most movingly delivered line: “etcetera, etcetera.”)

In any event, it's a great one. The textures have beautiful contrast, the vocal performance is as good as any Yorke has given, and the odd meter feels entirely natural as I do my weird dance. Have you heard it yet? Thoughts?

1 comment:

Ivy said...

hi Jake,

So I'm trying to hear the 5/4 meter. I think what I'm hearing is a basic rhythm of:

half note, eighth, eighth, quarter, quarter

Is that right?