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This morning I was listening to Thom Yorke’s solo record, The Eraser, and it reminded me of something I noticed when I first heard it a couple years ago. I don’t know if I’ll be able to communicate this well in print, but I’ll try…
Each and every track on this album has a rhythmic “bait-and-switch” happening in it. What I mean is: the groove, when it starts, gives the impression that the downbeat is in a different location than it really is. Each song begins by hinting at a groove that doesn’t actually exist, and then the reveal happens at various points depending on the song. Some of the tracks develop almost immediately so that the REAL downbeat shows itself, while other tracks are able to maintain the ambiguity for quite a while (until the syncing of a vocal melody and a chord change make the real groove impossible to miss). In each tune, there’s a moment where my head “shifts” from my misinterpretation of the groove to the true groove.
It’s like when you’re driving in the car listening to the radio, but it’s not too loud, and you hear the sub-harmonics of the bass, and they make you think the song is in a different key than it really is… so you turn the radio up to sing along with it, and you realize that you’re singing along in a totally different key than the actual song. Maybe nobody can relate to that analogy, but that’s always the feeling I have when listening to each track on The Eraser.
The totally rad part about this, to me, is that I’m a drummer. I play and teach rhythm for a living, and Yorke gets me every time with this groove trickery! I love it. His patterns are cool from both perspectives, but only one of them is the “real” groove for the track. I have to assume that he’s aware of the deceptive nature of his programming, and I can probably also assume that he’s doing it intentionally, especially in light of this lyric, buried in the middle of Black Swan (track 5): “This is your blind spot… it should be obvious, but it’s not.”
It’s as if Yorke, as the performer/composer, doesn’t want to let the listener in on the perspective that he has on the track until he’s good and ready. In most/all other circumstances, a recorded piece of music leaves the performer/composer on an even playing field with the listener. The performer/composer no longer has exclusive rights to the sounds he/she is imagining – now anyone can just listen to the recording and hear the same thing the performer/composer hears. But Yorke, in pulling this “bait-and-switch” with the grooves on his tunes, still manages to have 10 seconds (or even 2 minutes) in each track where he’s the only one who knows what the true sound of the song is, while presumably everyone else is getting duped by the displaced downbeat. This concept is FANTASTICALLY interesting to me.
Needless to say… The Eraser is a brilliant album.