Thursday, 31 March 2011

Album review: The King of Limbs by Radiohead

Radiohead, The King of Limbs (Ticker Tape, 2011).  ASIN: B004SRQ2W6.

Once again, Radiohead have done something unconventional with their manner of releasing an album: this time it’s not being given away for free, only with next-to-no publicity and only having been announced about a week before the release date.  Once again, I’m not going to have anything else to say about that, although I will have something to say about the unconventional shortness of this record.

I thought that, rather than do a track-by-track review, I’d do a listen-by-listen review.  This is partly because Radiohead albums tend to be growers on me, and partly because it’s almost an album of moods rather than an album of songs.

  • First listen: Bland and slightly nightmarish.
    My overall impression is of the morning after a night of bad dreams.  I feel ill-at-ease but nothing really sticks in the memory.  There’s barely any guitar presence on this album – maybe even less than on Kid A or Amnesiac.
  • Second listen: Trippy and menacing.
    The songs do still tend to blur together beneath the typically intricately layered soundscape.  This time, though, the chorus of ‘Lotus Flower’ is definitely stuck in my head.  Heck, it’s almost catchy.  I’ve also begun to notice the lyrics rather than just hearing Thom Yorke’s melancholy intonations as part of the background.  ‘Little By Little’ sounds like the interior monologue of a stalker (and not just lyrically).  He repeats ‘don’t hurt me’ all the way through ‘Give Up The Ghost’ and ‘if you think this is over then you’re wrong’ intermittently throughout ‘Separator’.
  • Third listen: Contrasts emerge.
    Parts of this record – on ‘Bloom’, ‘Morning Mr. Magpie’, ‘Lotus Flower’ and ‘Separator’ – are now sounding almost groovy, albeit in a downbeat way.   ‘Codex’ is a desperately sad and beautiful song of the kind we’ve come to expect from Radiohead (other reviewers have made a variety of comparisons; it reminds me most of ‘Pyramid Song’ off Amneisac), but it’s so understated that its effect is almost suffocated by its own intro and outro.
  • Fourth listen: Music for the head.
    They really are being tricky (Tricky?) with the sound effects and samples (and possibly use of unusual instruments, I’m not sure).  ‘Feral’ is the epitome of this, as the track has plenty of cleverness but very little else.  If this were a genius record, though, in total contrast to my initial reaction, then I’d expect to have noticed it by now.
  • Fifth listen: The final listen for now.
    This may sound like the ultimate case of stating the obvious, given what I’ve written above, but there really is nothing to sing along with here.  Otherwise I have nothing new to report, and so conclude that I now have the information I need to write up my review.

So a mixed review, then.  Subtlety is a virtue, and this is certainly a subtle album.  However, I would have preferred it to have been less subtle, for there to have been more variation.  Maybe that’s asking too much of an album this short, but then maybe for that reason alone this album is just too short; on at least the first three listens I was surprised at how quickly the album was finished, half expecting everything I’d heard to have been a build up to a dramatic final third which just doesn’t materialise.  As it is, this release just isn’t heavyweight enough to demand that you buy it.  At the same time, I don’t regret that I did.

Track listing:

  1. Bloom
  2. Morning Mr. Magpie
  3. Little By Little
  4. Feral
  5. Lotus Flower
  6. Codex
  7. Give Up The Ghost
  8. Separator

Monday, 28 March 2011

Book review: The Journey to Truth by George Garlick

Garlick, George F. (2009) The Journey to Truth: How scientific discovery provides insights into spiritual truths (Sisters, Oregon: VMI Publications). ISBN: 978-1-933204-89-5. RRP: $14.99/£9.26

There are a number of ‘God and science’ books on the market at the moment, of which this is one.  Beyond that, however, this book is relatively difficult to categorise.  Garlick certainly aims to show that there is no inconsistency in being a scientist and a Bible-believing Christian.  But his concern is not, as in so many other cases, merely to disarm the ‘scientific’ arguments of sceptics (although there is some of that), and if there was any positive argument for God in this book then I missed it.  Rather, he also and most importantly appears to feel a burden to enthuse fellow Christians about science (or at least, some particular areas of science) and to encourage us to integrate our scientific and theological thinking.  For these reasons, although perhaps not only these reasons, The Journey to Truth is an interesting if sometimes uneven mixture of autobiography, apologetics, popular science, devotion, natural theology and theology of nature, to name but a few themes.  In his own words: ‘My goal is to present my understanding of scientific facts and new scientific theories as honestly as possible and them demonstrate how they can help us interpret the truths of challenging passages in Scripture’ (p 11).  Some of those understandings and interpretations are a little unconventional, on both the scientific and theological sides.  I will try to give a flavour of this in what follows.

Garlick endorses a version of (super)string theory, according to which all matter is fundamentally made up of ‘strings of energy’ of approximately 10-35m long each.  He identifies the Big Bang as the creation event, when an infinite quantity of energy began to be converted into matter of this kind.  The reason that there isn’t an infinite amount of matter/energy in the observable universe is that most of it exists in higher dimensions.  On Garlick’s view, God inhabits the the totality of the fifth dimension (and all higher), through which he is able to act anywhere on our more familiar four-dimensional (including time) world.  The fifth dimension, unlike the four below it, is unaffected by sin.

Garlick draws a parallel between the notion of infinite energy and God’s omnipotence.  I wasn’t quite able to tell just how close this parallel was supposed to be, except that it seems to be stronger than the assertion that God created infinite energy ex nihilo, but weaker than the claim that God just is this infinite energy, out of which creation comes (which would be a form of panentheism).  A similar situation affects the discussion of the nature of light later on in the book.  God and light are compared at length in chapter VIII, as summarised in the following:

Both God and light are constants
Not of the World
Invisible yet Visible
Both God and light are constants (p 103)

Garlick says that the assertion ‘God is light’ (1 John 1:5) ‘has far more meaning and revelation of the nature of God than a metaphor’ (p 103), including the derivation that ‘any time in the fifth dimension would be an infinite time in our earthly existence’ (p 123), since all velocity on earth is relative to the speed of light and light itself ‘is a vibration in the fifth dimension’ (p 84).

I won’t pretend that I fully (or even mostly) understand all (or even most) of that.  Garlick does his best to explain it, including with the aid of many diagrams, drawings, tables and equations, but at certain points I got the impression that his reverence and enthusiasm were getting the better of his clarity of expression.  Not that that is such a bad thing overall, and not that I blame him for my not getting to grips with these complex and often counterintuitive concepts.  I only think that perhaps he tried to cover too much ground in a short book, and that this situation could have been helped if he had dedicated less space to autobiography (which, I’m afraid, I didn’t find all that interesting).  Still, this short book certainly does cover an awful lot of thoroughly interesting ground, for which we can be grateful.