According to Radiohead’s suspect logic, 2 + 2 = 5. And that’s just the title of the first song on the British quintet’s sixth album. They’ve cornered the market on strung-out melodies you’d rather weep over than dance to— underscored by the sort of electronic blips, bleats and blats that only a robot could love. Where their previous two albums, Kid A and Amnesiac, were filled with meandering, atmospheric anthems of alienation, Hail to the Thief sees the band actually writing songs. On We Suck Young Blood and The Gloaming, Radiohead marries spare electronic beats with singer Thom Yorke’s beautiful, miserable whine, offering a new formula for pop: repel the masses with the music, but suck them back in with empathy. This gambit works-nearly as well as the quiet-loud thing did for ’90s grunge stars. You’re not likely to hear Myxomatosis or A Punchup at a Wedding during an all-request nooner, but that doesn’t diminish the band’s effort. There are only so many ways to express soul-crushing dejection, and whenever Radiohead releases a record it seems there’s one more. Bad math can add up to musical brilliance.
Battle of the Nudes (MapleMusic Recordings)
On his second solo album, the Tragically Hip front man, with his offbeat cadence and quavering voice, is found forcing more lugubrious syllables into tiny musical spaces-as is his signature style. It’s as if Downie’s desperate to cram all his reams of thought into an attention-deficitdisordered three minutes; his lyrics and music require undivided attention, even during ear-splitting, suburban guitar solos, because everything means something. While there’s plenty of driving, messy Canadian rock on the disc, including 11th Fret and Christmastime in Toronto, a chart-worthy paean to miscommunication, it’s Downie’s sensitive experimentsthe elegiac Into the Night, or the lonely piano dirge of More Me Less You-that imbue the record with warmth, evincing both sad memories and sparks of desire. JONATHAN DURBIN
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