Chapter 1 leverages theories of musical perception and semiotics to argue that Radiohead’s music from 1997 onward warrants detailed analysis of musical structure more so than any other modern rock artist. Their music maximizes cognitive arousal by meeting the listener somewhere between the expected and the unexpected. Radiohead’s balance of surprise and expectation in form, rhythm, timbre, and harmony is maximally salient, to borrow a term from semiotics. Like Beethoven’s late music, their albums after The Bends build upon a host of expectations while at the same time subverting those expectations several times over the course of a given song. After building a case for how their music is so consistently salient in this mature period, the chapter ends with a comparison to the more predictable—and therefore less perceptually marked—two albums that precede this period.
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