'It's not pop music, not rock': Clive Deamer on Radiohead's jazz-inflected sound

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Drummer Clive Deamer, who entered 2012 on tour with Radiohead, is no closer than anyone else to placing a label on their music. He says it’s not pop, but also that it’s not rock. Actually, he hears a lot of jazz in it.

Deamer should know. After all, and he his band Get The Blessing claimed the BBC Jazz Award for best new album in 2008. And he’s actually part of a dramatic influx of jazz musicians into popular music, as noted by The Independent: Deamer and bassist Jim Barr, his bandmate in Get the Blessing, also work with Portishead. Jazz pianist Neil Cowley was the principal musical force behind Adele’s wallpapering of radio over the last 18 months. Guitarist Nels Cline has been making important contributions with Wilco for some time now, too.

Deamer won’t go so far as to say Radiohead — in the midst of a 2012 North American tour — thinks of themselves as a jazz band, but “it figures in their thinking.”

“There’s a track on King of Limbs called ‘Bloom,'” Deamer tells The Independent. “That is the most complex, antagonistic, tangled rhythm. It’s certainly not pop music, certainly not rock. It’s got the same intensity as any Sun Ra, or drummer Elvin Jones bursts with Coltrane.”

He says, for Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, it’s more a matter of the uncompromising attitude associated with improvisational music.

“I don’t think they would call it anything they do jazz, but they’re keenly aware that there are obvious parallels — in the way that they deliberately try to avoid cliché and standard forms for the sake of the song, and of Radiohead as an idea,” Deamer says. “Rock bands don’t do that. It’s far more like a jazz mentality. Jonny certainly, there’s a jazz player in there, along with all the other things.”

That’s why, ultimately, Radiohead stands apart from many of its peers, Deamer says: “Having spent nearly a year with them, they don’t see themselves as a rock band — and they’re not trying to maintain that.”

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Radiohead — including a review of this week’s tour stop at Key Arena in Seattle, Washington. Click through the titles for complete details …

SHOWS I’LL NEVER FORGET: RADIOHEAD, APRIL 9, 2012: Besides their well-known status as perennial critics darlings, Radiohead have enjoyed a well-earned reputation through the years as one of the best live bands on the planet. Playing before a packed house this past Monday night at Seattle’s Key Arena — to kick off the West Coast “Coachella” leg of their current U.S. tour — they demonstrated exactly why. In a two hour set that combined brilliant lights, exquisite sound, and a band clearly playing at the top of their game right now, Radiohead’s King Of Limbs show was an absolute stunner.

THOM YORKE – THE ERASER (2006): Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke must have had a bunch of material laying around after Kid A because, as every review seemed to point out, that was exactly what this follow-up album felt like. The major difference with The Eraser was the tendency toward more organic textures, especially on Yorke’s vocals. Strangely, though, the album came across slightly colder and more distant than you’d expect.

RADIOHEAD – HAIL TO THE THIEF (2003): I wanted to love this. I originally heard the “pre-release” mp3s that slipped out, and I was enthused at what appeared to be a return to the “classic” Radiohead sound of OK Computer and The Bends. As much as I loved Kid A, I couldn’t lie and say I wouldn’t like to hear more of what they’d already done. They did it so well. I listened to only bits of the songs one time, less out of curiosity than purely to see if this album would be more substantial than the uneven Amnesiac was — and it was. So it was a surprise when I finally got my hands on the real thing a couple months later that I found myself somewhat bored by Hail to the Thief.

TALK TALK – LAUGHING STOCK (1991; 2011 reissue): I had an odd reaction the first time I heard Radiohead’s Kid A: Didn’t Talk Talk already do this album, back in 1991? That is, of course, an overstatement. But not by much. The taproot of that experimental new-century art-rock sound is this vastly underrated death knell recording from Talk Talk. Boldly shrugging off its own synthpop history with 1980s-era hits like “It’s My Life,” frontman Mark Hollis’ English group instead produced an album that moved with a glacier-like sense of beauty and purpose.

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