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Radiohead
OK Computer
Capitol

Radiohead's OK Computer isn't easy to cozy up to. It's a marathon listen, a muddled, self-fulfilling mess of a concept album. But it's also great -- not great in an obvious sense, and definitely not by any known commercial standards. Rather, Radiohead's third full-length release is great because the English quintet, while wracking its collective brain to give us something deep and complex, hardly ever sounds like they're breaking their backs to do so. It's as if this flagrantly nutty stuff actually comes to them with near-autistic ease, like they were programmed at birth to conceive a Dark Side of the Moon for the '90s fraught with pre-millennial tension.

OK Computer's stunning 1995 predecessor, The Bends, had some of the same effortless pretensions, combined with a sense that all its sonically enhanced pomp, guitar-hero histrionics and glam poses were secondary to lead singer Thom Yorke's personal demons, stark symbolism and convulsive whimper/wail. With the help of producer John Leckie (Stone Roses, Posies), those troubling elements fed a flashy, song-oriented package that proved Radiohead was much more than the one-hit-wonder some thought it to be following the success of "Creep."

Unlike The Bends, the self-produced OK Computer is designed to be ingested in chunks closer to the size of the CD's first single, "Paranoid Android," an at once distressing and soothing six-minute-plus suite that pilfers the past without insulting it. In the song's first movement, a treated guitar that mimics Yorke's vocal sounds eerily similar to what pops up in the quieter moments of the Who's Quadrophenia. Other segments hark back to the orchestration of Bowie's "Space Oddity" and his bloated conceptual piece The Man Who Sold the World. And yet "Paranoid Android" manages to retain a contemporary absurdity and (in its heavier moments) a grinding post-punk intensity all its own.

OK Computer also has its simpler moments. "Karma Police," a conventional mid-tempo number with a dainty piano interlude, might have fit nicely on The Bends if its themes weren't locked so firmly in another dimension. And on the disc's blistering opener, "Airbag," the band gets its point across efficiently via guitarist Jonny Greenwood's chiming fret-play, a booming, cut-and-paste percussion track and an echoey hook that burrows into your skull like a cybertick. Meanwhile, Yorke sets the stage for what appears to be the concept linking OK Computer's tracks: the world's not-so-unreal domination by an army of technical gadgets. "I am born again in the neon sign scrolling up and down, I am born again / In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the universe."

That's about as lucid as OK Computer gets. Where some lyrics are open to broad interpretation ("This is what you get when you mess with us"), others are simply unintelligible ("That's it sir, you're leaving / The crackle of pig skin") and still others are little more than searing exhalations of emotion ("You can laugh a spineless laugh / We hope your rules and wisdom choke you"). Still, what matters most is not so much the logic of what's said, but the mood it evokes -- and here, it's primarily one of dread. At the same time, the music -- a convergence of Moog and Mellotron swells, jarring guitar effects, majestic piano interludes and various found sounds -- serves as an oddly uplifting elixir. So don't be scared off by the title; on patient analysis, OK Computer's humanizing beauty reveals itself in a slow, spectacular flourish -- all for your listening pleasure. (****)

-- Hobart Rowland

Arto Lindsay
Mundo Civilizado
Bar/None
Arto Lindsay Remixes
Hyper Civilizado
Gramavision

Anyone who heard Arto Lindsay's 1996 CD The Subtle Body -- a record of fairly conventional Brazilian bossa-nova pop -- had to be at least a bit surprised. Not surprised by his choice of music: Lindsay grew up in Brazil and has incorporated elements of its music into his own as far back as the mid-'80s, when he was with the Ambitious Lovers, and arguably even earlier, with his skronky no-wave band DNA. And not surprised by his choice of collaborators: He'd worked before with avant-pop godheads such as Brian Eno, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Caetano Veloso, and so it was natural for him to include in The Subtle Body New York downtowners such as Cibo Matto and Blonde Redhead.

What was surprising, though, was that Lindsay could handle his material so lovingly and gently. It was unexpected to hear a man known as the king of the untuned guitar and horrific shriek incorporating samples and synth textures with understated vocals, and mixing programmed drums with Latin percussion. But he did, and The Subtle Body emerged as a disarmingly sultry, thoroughly contemporary and completely accessible creation.

Much the same can be said for Mundo Civilizado, Lindsay's second successful jazz pop foray. The record continues along the path Lindsay began last time out, but delves further into electronic music by setting many of his acoustic compositions to the ambient beats of DJ Spooky and Mutamassik. Though not as tied to bossa nova as was The Subtle Body (this time around he covers Al Green and Prince, though he still occasionally sings in Portuguese), Mundo makes ample use of Brazilian percussion that blends seamlessly with the electronics. Given the rapid-fire intricacies of both, in fact, it's sometimes difficult to tell which is which.

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