Pay to play

Check out the checkout: Radiohead, Go! Team, Cave Singers, Soulja Boy, and more
Thom Yorke -- priceless?

SONIC REDUCER Some of the sweetest words to deliver to impecunious types like myself: pay what you can. This I can work with — be it a noise show at 21 Grand or the new Radiohead album. After blowing my newspaper wage-slave paycheck on rent, ramen, recreational intoxicants like lychee jellies, and sticker pics of my homegirls in goth Lolita getups, there's not much cheddar left to slap on surplus grillables. So taking a cue from Radiohead, what say we pretend this is a just world where we have the leisure and the leeway to bitch the would-be Hills cast member behind the counter down a cent or two for that Elvis Reese's cup? How much would we fork out for these recent releases?


They get at least $5 for getting us talking again about wiping the high prices of CDs and putting the music out there on the imaginary block: how much is this worth, unheard? More than a million queued up for a taste and an alleged average of about $8 per album download. A bargain compared to iTunes' $1 per track.

But what about the songs themselves? The sly wink lodged behind the downloadable album's flexible price has kept in check the ear-popping pressure of creating another masterwork on par with 1997's OK Computer (Capitol). In keeping with the darkly miniaturist mode of Thom Yorke's 2006 solo disc The Eraser (XL), In Rainbows is a subtle, contained meditation on love, trapped in a bell jar when it doesn't soar into creamy, cumulous, string-strafed regions ("Reckoner") or dip into the red, bristling with distortion and thumbing its nose at wincing audiophiles ("Bodysnatchers"). Fidelity is the last thing on the mind for this band off the leash, as on "House of Cards," on which burly bass lines buzz, glassy synths shiver, and Yorke oozes, "I don't want to be your friend / I just want to be your lover." How about $9.99 and rising as I find new reasons to love In Rainbows?


"Crank That (Soulja Boy)" gets about $2.50 for putting a crystallized Caribbean spin on crunk and imbuing steel drums with a certain refried dementia. SB also snatches 25¢ for working Robocop into the rhyme. But I'll take that 25 back for the doofus idea of writing an ode to a Sidekick, pandering to the ringtone market. I'll drop another $1 for the album title, which triggers flashbacks to the late '90s, when every new business felt the need to add a ".com" to its handle. The final $1.25.


The way these Seattlites juxtapose ex–Hint Hint vocalist Pete Quirk's adenoidal croon with skiffle snare, guitar drone, and nodding tambourine on "Seeds of Night" scores them at least $3, as does the barn-raising thrum of the eerie "Helen." But the group hug on the cover lands them in the $8 range. Is it ironic — a poke at the freely folkish movement from onetime rockers like former Pretty Girls Make Graves bassist Derek Fudesco? "It's pretty genuine, actually," Quirk told me last week from his native New Jersey. "It's not supposed to be a joke. We don't really take ourselves too seriously, and we usually have a good time with the things we do — we do the group hug a lot!" Sounds like Cave Singers are actually pretty sensitive dudes. "That was our first band name, Sensitive Dudes, but it was taken," Quirk joked. My bid: $8 and a standing invitation to a friendly clinch.


I'd throw out $10 and a pint of blood for a daily dose of the superenergized Proof.

Also from this author

  • Women with movie cameras

    Cheers to CAAMFest's crop of female Asian American film directors

  • Spiking the box office

    THE YEAR IN FILM: Looking back at a triumphant year for African American films

  • Not from around here

    French synth-pop giants Phoenix and Daft Punk tap into the alien within

  • Also in this section

  • Peace-out

    After seven rockin' years, Sonic Reducer bids adieu with a look back at some choice musical moments

  • Feel the 'Love

    Rosily buzzing U.K. outfit the Big Pink gets it, Carly Simon and all

  • Sly 'n' sincere

    Don't confuse this Brit with Britney. Plus: Midlake and Barn Owl and Daniel Higgs