A chronological, song-based analysis of what inspired the sound of Kid A.
(Click each song to skip to that section.)
Planet Telex

(Nice Dream)

Bulletproof.. I Wish I Was

India Rubber

Talk Show Host


Exit Music (For A Film)

Fitter Happier

Climbing Up The Walls

Meeting In The Aisle


Palo Alto

Rabbit In Your Headlights performed by UNKLE (DJ Shadow) with Thom Yorke

I've Seen It All performed by Bjork with Thom Yorke

Note: Actually, the best explanation for the electronic and experimental stylings of Kid A and Amnesiac is the fact that Radiohead have always been interested in exploring styles other than straight-forward rock. Listen to their demos from as early as 1991 and you'll hear synthesizers, drum machines, and hypnotic mantras. It is also widely known that before Radiohead, Thom was in a "techno band", and all five members of Radiohead have been listening to experimental artists long before they started making music together.

Why "Planet Telex"?
The strong role for the keyboard was groundbreaking for the band. Kid A is, of course, keyboard centered.

Why "Nice Dream"?
Simply the tide of distorted noise that washes out the end of the song. This unique concept of transition is employed on most tracks on the new album.

Why "Bulletproof"?
The guitar atmospherics played by Jonny and maybe Ed were a precursor to the innovative tricks done with standard instruments that made later songs like "Lucky" and "Airbag" and of course Kid A wrought with interesting embelishments. Songs on Kid A like "Idioteque" and "Morning Bell" feature distortion pedal usage as embellishments. Indeed, the "Aphex Twin sounding" instrumental "Treefingers" is entirely guitars, sampled and chopped up (Kevin Shields style).  Also, compare the very delayed and thereby very much anticipated appearences of the acoustic guitar between this song and "How To Disappear Completely" (the album version, not the early live version). The distorted atmospherics are used tensively to make tease the introduction of the organic acoustic guitar riff.

Why "India Rubber"?
This was the first really experimental Radiohead song. Basically this was Thom's science project. All sorts of weird techniques were used to make this song, techniques that would forever change the concept of what Radiohead is supposed to sound like. It also introduced Thom as "that guy with the really weird electronica ideas."

Why "Talk Show Host"?
This is a keyboard song without really any conventional guitars. Think "Idioteque," "Everything In Its Right Place," "Kid A," etc.

Why "Airbag"?
"Airbag" is full of super layered instrumentation inspired by the deep sonic collages invented by DJ Shadow, who opened for Radiohead on their 1996 European tour. This type of layering is probably the biggest influence on Kid A. Although the song is a far cry from "techno" (as is DJ Shadow himself), the song was the most challenging Radiohead track at that time, and as the opener to OK Computer it forced the listener to again change his or her opinion as to what Radiohead is like.

Why "Exit Music"?
Again, the atmospherics done in the last few bars - where Thom is telling us he hopes that we choke - are a signature trademark of songs like "The National Anthem" (before Thom starts singing, for instance). For information about the distortion equipment Jonny uses to make this sound, click here.

Why "Fitter Happier"?
This song is not a gimick, but it is obviously meant to be a very unique and outstanding piece. It's not really a song, as there is no singing, but the digital voice - an Apple default voice reading Thom's ranting - is both technical and philosophical foreshadowing to Kid A. In the technical sense, the actual usage of a computer as the premise for a song was radical for them, and this idea turns up throughout the new album. The sessions were all done directly to digital medium and most of Kid A was either created on a machine or edited with one. As for philosophy, it is a precursor to the themes of Kid A, that is, the lack of humanity in today's society. Having a computer speak instead of a human is perfect. Having Thom's voice sound like a machine on the first couple tracks of Kid A is very effective in conveying their view on the state of humanity. Also, musically, "Fitter Happier" was programmed by outsiders. The new album was programmed by the band themselves. But again, the idea of Radiohead's music being made on the machine was really quite revolutionary.

Why "Climbing Up The Walls"?
The intro. These weird sampled and distorted sounds serve as ancestors to the intros and outros to songs like "The National Anthem" and the new version of "How To Disappear Completely."

Why "Meeting In The Aisle"?
This was programmed by the same people who programmed "Fitter Happier." Again, machine music. The song is really interesting, kind of electronic cabaret without vocals. On that note, the idea of a Radiohead song without any words was also an influence on Kid A, as "Treefingers" is an instrumental and some of the other songs utilize Thom's voice as an instrument rather than a method of expressing words.

Why "Melatonin"?
The strong presense of keyboards and a lack of guitars is a precursor. Also note Phil's trippy, hollow drumming sounds like a drum machine loop.

Why "Palo Alto"?
The bizarre usage of the radio transmitter opened doors for what Radiohead can use in the studio and especially on stage. Thom's experiment in adding the sputtering radio noises worked so extremely well that Kid A is chock full of weird instruments, whether they be synthesizers, drum machines, or just weird little radios and electronic devices.

Why "Rabbit In Your Headlights"?
The collaboration with DJ Shadow allowed Thom to even further depart from Radiohead's typical style. DJ Shadow added lots of weird, cool samples to the song. Samples are of course very heavy in Kid A, like the harp in "Motion Picture Soundtrack" and the "organ" sound (a Paul Lansky sample) predominent in "Idioteque." Again, no guitars. Thom does play bass; his debut, if I recall correctly. Thom plays bass on some songs on Kid A and the as-yet-unreleased fifth album.

Why "I've Seen It All"?
Though it was recorded right after Kid A, it probably reassured Thom that the more divergent tracks were the right ones to put out. Bjork asked LFO's Mark Bell to not use drums or a drum machine on this song - so he samples a train and uses this as a looped drum beat. Brilliant. I'm sure Thom was impressed.

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