tbd records 88088217592 (2011, Sept.)
Evaluated by Claude Lemaire
Rating: 9.0/ A+
Format: double CD
Nearly seven months after Radiohead's The King of Limbs came out in February of last year, the progenitors of experimental electro-rock have courageously granted the 19 'guest remixers' full access to the discrete multitrack recording. In this sense TKOL RMX 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 is truly a remix compilation album of seven 12 inch singles conveniently and economically reunited here on 2 CDs.
The term 'remix' harks back to the early days of the disco movement, when in 1972 a then unknown Tom Moulton attended a dancing party at the Sandpiper club in Fire Island, New York and noticed that the DJ - spinning mostly 3 minute singles - kept 'emptying' his dancefloor; always a definite no-no for sure. He rightly figured that the patrons did not have sufficient time to recognize the song, make up their minds to hit the dancefloor and once there, to get into a groove and relish in it before the following song came on. Call it visionary if you will; Moulton then headed back home and proceeded to make a painstaking reel-to-reel tape of back to back popular and underground soulful-funky songs using the 'sound on sound' technique for assembly. Having worked previously in a record shop and grasping the psyche of the typical dancer/music buff he determined that doubling the song time to around 6 minutes - sometimes interspersed with the 'B-side instrumental parts - would be ideal for both dancer and DJ; thus by happenstance, creating the first extended mix as well as the deconstructive breakdown. His hard work payed off, eventually leading to a contract in 1974 with Scepter Records' Roadshow label producing B.T.Express' funkified disco hit "Do It ('Til You're Satisfied)"; transforming the 3:31 original into a 5:52 Disco Remix pressed on the single's B-side and album [Scepter Records SCE-12395 and SPS 5117 respectively]. Later that same year, he applied his talents to disco's first crossover hit - Gloria Gaynor's "Never Can Say Goodbye" [MGM Records M3G 4982], again doubling from 3 to over 6 minutes. Rumor has it that 'disco queen' Gaynor was not shall we say 'enamoured' with Moulton's vocal-instrumental rearrangement at the time, finding he used her vocals too sparingly. He then gained further prominence repeating his winning recipe with many of the big Philly acts; leading to the invention of the DJ's best friend - the 12 inch disco single. He was the first to identify his imprint with the following trademark: "A Tom Moulton Mix" - a sure sign of high quality. As the disco decade came to a close giving way to the 1980s and beyond, the Remix departed more and more from the original mix, so much so that what was once regarded as quite innovative on the dancefloor would barely bat an eye in today's highly compurized mashed-up world.
Which segues nicely into this current review of Radiohead ReMiXes. In this instance the latter are so far removed from the original song structures that experimental creative productions seem almost a better fit than the 'classic' definition of remix. In fact, if it were not for singer Thom Yorke's - at times ghostly, ephemeral - vocal track, you would be hard pressed to 'name that tune'. Do not take that observation as pejorative; on the contrary, when done with taste - as in this case -, it makes for a mighty strong argument to let the remixers free rein on the faders. That said, based on credits, recording engineer-band producer Nigel Godrich along with the quintet still kept a hand in the production department.
The Wildwood & Twain CD artwork is only fair; nothing elaborate or fancy. Each CD sits in the edges of a slightly glossy gatefold carton. Though masked in the center by a mainly whitish 'spark', the background in the front cover is nevertheless a (darker) reproduction of The King of Limbs' original, in effect acknowledging the connection with the first born. Inside the gatefold, lies a mirror image of what could pass for small-gauge wire coils or 'balls of yarn'. The back cover has the track listing plus remix and additional production credits printed white on black background. While Compakt Disk Two's label is a close facsimile to the cover art, Compakt Disk One's label is the exact opposite with black on white background; a kind of 'matter vs anti-matter universe'.
CD One opens with Caribou's Rmx of "Little By Little"; a deep tight syncopated 808 kick plus 'clap' sets the stage for some groovier Radiohead than we are normally accustomed to with this band. A finely transparent lithe harp sound, brings a special contrasting touch. Rhythmic looped panned vocals adhere to a minimalist approach. The soundstage is wide, oftentimes with panned echos. Lastly, shakers are lightly filtered for effect purposes. Sound balance is close to perfection. As far as first impressions go, this promises to be a great treat.
Jacques Greene follows with the "Lotus Flower" Rmx; smooth sounding synth holds the intro honors while the original's vocal track is quite recognizable. The beat comes on strong adorned with crisp syncopated treble percussion. A few dub echo effects appear from time to time; there lies a 'feel-good' toe-tapping danceable vibe that permeates the remix. Nice 'spicy' top octave '16 beat' percussive elements propulse the rhythmic flow. Like the previous track and perhaps more so, the non-compressed sound is open and breathy.
"Morning Mr Magpie" Rmxed by Nathan Fake has a syncopated kick plus lo-fi shaker rhythmic pattern playing in the background, masked somewhat by a compressed fatiguing synth and vocal that should have been lowered in level. As can be expected the overall level is louder and even a bit distorted. Interesting sub grinding lows come into play. The - intentional - distortion keeps increasing more and more bringing some enjoyable 'nastiness' but also some slight ear fatigue towards the end. That being the case, I have heard much worse often times in other genres. The music creativity is no less on par with the above tracks.
Harmonic 313's Rmx of "Bloom" starts with water sounds in the intro followed by sub territory exploration that - depending on ones system - can be felt in your seat. A cold sounding synth a la 1980s Blade Runner soundtrack and Mask [Polydor POHL 19] both by Vangelis infuse the remix and culminate in a great cinematic coda.
Mark Pritchard's "Bloom" Rmx is miles apart from the previous one. Hurried tempo ushers a loud compressed mix. The vocals are very close to the original. Some listening fatigue sets in due to the highly limited dynamics. Tonal balance is filtered in the lows and highs, definitely the less full range track of the album. I found this version too repetitive and lacking musical inspiration. Of course, the lower sound quality did not help its case.
Lone's Rmx of "Feral" starts with low descending pitch sweeps augmented by energetic Africa-esque percussion and looped vocals. This one also is compressed a bit loud for nothing; lo-fi chymes; mids are too loud to the point of - non creative - saturation. The latter unfortunately masks a bit the nice low frequency grinding. As the previous track: musically repetitive and in need of more variation. Second worse sounding track of the album.
Thankfully, Pearson Sound Scavenger's Rmx of "Morning Mr Magpie" gets the compilation album back on track. The sounds in the intro seem sampled from the Moonbase shots in the 1970 Gerry & Sylvia Anderson-Reg Hill British sci-fi series UFO. Nice low bass grinding loop superimposed possibly with Alan Parsons/Pink Floyd's "On the Run" from Dark Side of the Moon [EMI-Harvest] for a brief moment changing into a highly creative breakbeat alternating with short syncopated vocal samples every two bars.
"Separator" Rmxed by Four has a syncopated looped hi-hat, accompanied by a phased drone-like cyclic whine bringing an Eastern sound influence. Further on in the track, some superbly organic close-up grooved percussion come in the picture. Crisp 'snare type' sounds come and go; mesmerizing locked groove; sudden surprising abrupt finale closes the first CD with a bang.
Moving on to CD Two. "Give Up The Ghost"'s Rmx by Thriller Houseghost enters with a beautiful deep, fat, rock solid, stomping beat, gradually emphasing higher overtones producing a harder, tighter kick. Four beat synth loop forms a thrilling pattern; intentional distorted synth with vocal riff later adding texture bringing a 'celestial' effect to the envelope. The whole thing is repetitive but nicely hypnotic also. Excellent, sonically and musically.
Illum Sphere's "Codex" Rmx is impressively transparent with up close panned metallic sounds along with vocal effects. A metronomic 'alarm' sound adds to the picture. Lovely pure keyboard chords build up like a choir. Finally, panned 'off-beat' metallic sounding hi-hat closes the track. Demo worthy.
"Little By Little" Rmxed by Shed grabs our attention from the start with 'earth shaking' SUBstance, meaning if your speakers are up to the task, you can count the individual cycles in an almost 'Jurassic Park' manner. Rotary industrial machine-sounds followed by an 'off-beat' groove with vocalise ambient cues taking up more and more importance expanding to an 'addictive' panned rhythmic trebly shaker. Major Demo material. This is as good as it gets!
Brokenchord's Rmx of "Give Up The Ghost" keeps us riveted with a deep slow tempo sub foundation and a low-high pitch sweep making it the heaviest Rmx trk of the lot. Panned 'ping-pong' sounding mids recalling some early electro-acoustique a la Pierre Henry, circa 1960s. Dark sounding analog synths interwined with vocalised samples. 'Nasty', 'crunchy', very present high-mid sounds. We are flooded by an extremely wide and dense soundfield creating one of the most impressive 'wall of sound' - of Spectorial proportions - upping the ante once more.
Altrice's Rmx of "TKOL" proposes a mid-tempo four-beat loop possessing superb, groovy bass textures. Perfect tonal balance from the lows to the highs. Catchy filtered-sounding piano riff followed by flanged trebly detail. Nice random-like bass punches. Heavy use of creative frequency contouring. The track ends sounding like a 'spaced-out swamp'.
"Bloom" Rmxed by Blawan. A crescendo of strangely dense industrial sound suddenly changes to a foot-tapping uptempo discofied beat soon joined by a 'sandyish' 16 beat semiquaver up to the point where the pumping beat stops; some strange sounds before the return of the disco beat. Like the previous track, while not at the top, still very high in calibre.
Modeselektor's Rmx of "Good Evening Mrs Magpie" introduces a looped vocal snippet, after which an easily recognizable vocal comes on, sureimposed on a head-bopping tech house 'four on the floor' beat. Vocalised cescendo; beat ceases, leaving only some percussive elements playing until an 'addictive' beat amid vocals and handclap resume. Highly hypnotic recalling at first Underworld's "Born Slippy .NUXX" [Logic Records – 74321353141] and towards the end the blending of "Cups"' synth-bass line from 1999's Beaucoup Fish [Junio Boy's Own – JBO1005431]. Mere Perfection.
A "Bloom" Rmx by Objekt starts out with a 'tick tock' like percussion switching to a great punchy 'kick ass' 808, this in turn metamorphosing into a crisp electro/IDM glitch track a la Twerk and Funkstörung. Interesting mid textures, perfectly 'saturated' and exquisite tonal balance. Repeating another flawless score.
A final, fifth Rmx or in this case Rework of "Bloom" by Jamie making this song, the most alternate version of all the originals taken from The King of Limbs. This particular version is good but less magnificent than the other true Rmxs. This one consisting mostly of 'celestial' reverb-drenched vocalise sounds building up together.
Anstam's Rmx of "Separator" is incredibly original with syncopated electro snare very upfront and crisp. Then comes the low bass pounding, followed by the whole song structure deconstructing in real time; rarely can I recall hearing such originality in a remix, truly creatively captivating. Totally awesome track - I hate to repeat myself, but 'best one' once more?
Lastly "Lotus Flower"'s Rmx by SBTRKT is immensely well textured in pitched bass tones along with syncopated groovy rhythms. Metallic treble percs add their aural signature and transparent 'chip music' synth runs are reminiscent of Kraftwerk's 1981 Computerwelt [Kling Klang EMI Electrola – 1C 064-46 311]. Tonal balance is spot on and as with the entirety of this second CD, I experienced zero listening fatigue, leading to supreme sonic satisfaction.
For those wondering about the sound of the individual 12 inch single vinyl editions; though I did not do a rigorous side by side comparison, having heard a few of them before listening to these CD's I can confirm that the masterings/cuttings are also first rate but be forewarned that some have reported annoying elevated surface noise either due to problematic metal stampers, vinyl pellets or plain pressing problems.
In conclusion Radiohead's TKOL RMX 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 - 12 inch single - compilation is both a delight for the ears as much for its musical than its sound esthetic qualities. The 'guest remixers' have more than proven themselves worthy in their creative capabilities. Kudos must also be accorded to the band and producer Nigel Godrich's visionary leadership and stance regarding the lasting effects of their rich but unique musical heritage. By now it should be clear to anyone that holds in high regard musical creativity, sound design and superior mastering that this album is essential to any audiophile-music lover worth his or her salt. I am placing it at the top of the crop for 2011 releases.
Oh and Tom, that little invention of yours - the Remix - well its come a long way baby and seems stronger than ever.