From Milner on Music for May 4, 2016

2.Radiohead – “Burn the Witch” (YouTube, May 3, 2016)
3.Radiohead – “There There” (from Hail to the Thief, Parlophone, 2003)

A new single from Radiohead means lots of takes and opinions from everyone, so I’ll spare you the thinking and speculating and focus on just this: a taught, nervous single which shows Radiohead moving away from electronics and back to the claustrophobic, nervous music of Hail to the Thief. My favourite records of theirs always came at times of strife and controversy: Hail as the lies over the Iraq war started piling up; “Burn the Witch” as Trump rolls through Indiana and the Panama Papers linger at the back of everyone’s minds.

Like Hail…, the big single has an animated video showing someone going into the backwoods and getting caught up in events they don’t really understand, being overwhelmed and trapped: a distinctly British kind of thing echoing all the way back to Shakespeare. On “There There,” Thom Yorke stumbled into a world he wasn’t supposed to know about, tried to enter into it and was destroyed. “Just cause you feel it doesn’t mean it’s there,” sang Thom Yorke about a decade ago; “Do not react… this is a low-flying panic attack,” he sings now.

The new video follows a notepad-wielding man visiting a small town, taking notes on a ledger and seeing a pagan festival slowly taking form: a woman’s tied up at the stake, there’s a decorated gallows; ultimately, there’s a giant burning wooden man and human sacrifice. It’d be a horror movie if the claymation wasn’t so cute (I’ve been told it’s a retelling of The Wicker Man, a movie I’m unfamiliar with). As his visit grows tenser and the protagonist is trapped, the music’s tension rises to a breaking point, the band’s playing growing quicker and tigher, a string section getting sharper and sharper and everything drops out. By song’s end, there’s a pile of ash, a singing bird and a pleasant dénouement, if one that undercuts the previous four minutes. And to think: there could be a whole album of this.

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