Evolving with Radiohead

By Jordan Cooper
Music Journalist

There are some bands that you discover, and some bands that discover you. There are bands that you outgrow and ones that you grow with. There are bands that you hope to see, and bands you would never miss. The band that found me, that has helped me grow, that has continually shaped my music preferences and perceptions since high school has been Radiohead.

As a 29 year old graduate student at Texas State, I am a bit of an elderly statesman on the KTSW Music staff and around campus. So I’m not sure that everyone shares my affinity for Radiohead, or has an appreciation for the band the way that I do. I’ve also had difficulty in the past trying to explain to people who aren’t fans just what it is about Radiohead that I love so much. This is my attempt to explain, in full, where the passion stems from.

High School

In 2003, when most current Texas State students were entering elementary school, I was entering the first summer of having a Driver’s License. I would cruise around my small East Texas hometown in my Ford Mustang just because I could, and this is when my taste in music began to develop past the typical radio station Top 40 selections. I would go to the best place to buy albums in town, the now extinct Hastings, and to this day I cannot pinpoint what prompted me to pick up the album. But on one fateful day in June, I ended up leaving with a copy of Hail to the Thief, and an album that didn’t leave that CD player for months. By virtue of having watched MTV in middle school, I was aware of the single “Karma Police,” as the video was played frequently for a time, but that was the only song I was familiar with up until that point.

Hail to the Thief was Radiohead’s sixth album, and was a shift away from their more studio developed critically acclaimed albums Kid A and Amnesiac. For Hail to the Thief, the band took what they learned playing electronic elements on tour and focused on recording the album with live takes. It began building intensity with “2+2=5” and “Sit Down. Stand Up,” and by the time I got to the drums on “There, There” I was completely hooked. Hail to the Thief took me down a rabbit hole of alternative rock music that I may have never gone done, and helped me find some of my other favorites such as Queens of the Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails, just to name a few. Check out the video below of Radiohead playing another one of my favorite songs off Hail to the Thief, “The Gloaming,” live from the basement:

College

In 2007, Radiohead brilliantly released their seventh album, In Rainbows, as a download that allowed you to pay-what-you-want. This time I did not stumble upon the album, as I had impatiently been waiting for it since 2003. I spent much of my freshman year of college in 2005 getting familiar with the five previous studio albums they had released before I had become a fan, and despite being your average broke college student, felt I owed it to the band to pay the standard $20 for the essentially free downloadable album. In Rainbows showed a more personal side to the band lyrically. Once again they came out fast with “15 Step,” and I was immediately captivated by “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi.” If Hail to the Thief was the album that introduced me, In Rainbows was the album that solidified their status as my favorite band.

This album helped me navigate the last few years of my undergraduate life, especially “Reckoner,” which to this day might still be my favorite song. Its hauntingly beautiful, and anytime I hear it I think about driving around late at night dealing with twenty-something life problems: battling with a bitter breakup; fall outs with family members; losing touch with friends; and trying to figure out what to do with the next chapter of my life.

in-rainbows-tour
Jordan Cooper outside of Superpages.com Center (now known as Gexa Energy Pavilion) in Dallas just before seeing Radiohead for the In Rainbows tour, May 2008. Photo by Monica Cooper

In May 2008, I was fortunate enough to see Radiohead in concert for the first time. Having turned 21 just a month before, the In Rainbows tour was the first show I saw where I was legally able to purchase alcohol. It was the final show of the first leg of their North American tour, and the set list was 24 songs long and included two encores. It was a life changing event. I had seen other live shows, but this one hooked me to live music like nothing ever had. Upon graduating college in December 2009, I made the leap to move to Austin, with the chance to see live music on a regular basis being one of the main factors in the decision. I guess I have Radiohead to thank for that move as well.

Coming of Age

In February 2011, Radiohead released their eighth studio album The King of Limbs. Upon release, I struggle with the fact that I had been waiting for the release of their next album for over three years, just to see it only have eight songs. However, once I dove into the content, I was blown away by how they were able to change their sound continually from album to the next. Much of the album was constructed from samples of instruments all played by the band, which were looped and manipulated, giving it a unique sound that does not resemble their other albums. The viral video of Thom Yorke dancing to “Lotus Flower” only added to his legend, and I played “Separator” on repeat for days on end.

Once again I was fortunate enough to see Radiohead tour for The King of Limbs, this time in Houston in March 2012. Words cannot do that show justice, with the epic stage and set list, coupled with floor seats in the pit with some of my best friends. These were friends from my hometown who I had grown up with, so getting to share a show like this with them was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments we will be sharing with our children someday, comparable to your parent telling you about that time they saw The Beatles or Led Zeppelin. It’s rare that you have moments like that, and even more rare that you are aware of the significance while it is happening.

Graduate School

In 2016, I decided to go back to school, and was lucky enough to be accepted in to Texas State University’s Mass Communications program. In May, Radiohead released their ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool. This time I did not have to wait to download or purchase the album, as I could instantly stream it on my phone when it was released. Just as the band has evolved, so too has technology. This album included multiple songs written years before it was released, which made the timing of its release while I was back in college seem even more appropriate. Per usual, the band starts the album off with an instant classic in “Burn the Witch.” Another instant favorite of mine was “Identikit,” which is often played here on KTSW, and I unknowingly saw the band play in 2012 as they tested out some of the new material during the King of Limbs tour.

Coming full circle, Radiohead was announced as a headliner for the Austin City Limits Music Festival later this month, where I will be fortunate enough to see them perform once again. I encourage anyone who has the chance to see them perform live, even if you aren’t familiar with their albums, to go and take in the stunning visual effects and amazing ability to translate electronic elements to the live environment. Of course, if you are not familiar with their albums, I encourage you to give them a try and see which one speaks to you.

Check out this new video Radiohead just released for “Present Tense”, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson below:

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