02. Radiohead - Idioteque

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Artwork by Adam Sarpalius

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As 2009, and the decade come to a close, PMA will be looking back at our favorite songs of the last ten years. We will update a list with 75 empty slots until we reach that song that changed everything. You can keep track of this list by keeping an eye on this page. We make these lists in hopes that you guys will chime in the comments and share your favorite musical moments of the noughties.

Defining something as the “Best” is such a tricky game – it’s completely subjective and invites scrutiny (see: Comments). You may, for example, think that “Idioteque” isn’t one of the best songs of the decade. You are wrong.

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The song is a blissful wave, a blanket of bump and glitch that sucks you in with a simple sample of four ascending tones. Thom Yorke hides behind this curtain until about a minute into the song, at which point he sings – in that haunting voice of his – the poetry of chaos and crisis. No matter the subject, though, the song rings true. Yorke’s voice is at once forceful and feeble, managing to stuff the omnipresent beat to the back of the song. Skittering strings add to the vibe in the back, and for some reason you just…can’t…escape. Now Thom is on your right, repeating mantras in your ear. The children!

Then, as brashly as it appear, it deserts you. In like a lion, out like a lamb. And there’s a hole somewhere inside of you that didn’t exist before. A space that’s a little more empty now that “Idioteque” isn’t reverberating inside.

More than great, this track is important. Sure, plenty of artists were doing this sort of stuff before Radiohead – “Idioteque” can be traced to pioneers like Steve Reich, Neu!, and Paul Lansky (from whom the song’s sample is taken) if you want to go back that far. But here, on “Idioteque,” everything comes together cohesively. The song shows that you can be popular and crazy and different and genius and weird all at the same time, without being aesthetically pigeonholed. Newton admitted to achieving his success by “standing on the shoulders of giants.” By that process, Radiohead, and “Idioteque,” are giving piggy-back rides to most modern indie rock.