I’ve long been an admirer of the aesthetic of artist Stanley Donwood, the longtime visual collaborator of Radiohead, who’s created artwork for practically every Radiohead record. I think I first took notice around the time of Kid A and Amnesiac because the visual imprint of those two musically-tied records was so perfectly cohesive. I love poring over all the tiny details embedded in the liner notes booklets and inserts and it always seems to be the way I picture Radiohead’s albums and songs in my head.
Currently I’ve become enamored in the artwork Donwood has crafted for Thom Yorke’s solo project Atoms For Peace, the new band he’s made with Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker, Flea and Mauro Refosco. The band’s new record, AMOK, is coming in late February and from what I’ve heard of it, it’s already one of the best records of the year. But originally, Atoms For Peace was put together in 2009 to tour in support Yorke’s first solo album 2006’s The Eraser and adapt songs constructed as beats and samples on a laptop into a living, breathing and danceable beast. That record was exceptional: intricately crafted and dark, but the glitched beats could feel sterile. Live, these songs were allowed to stretch and take on a newfound energy.
At the time The Eraser came out, I really loved the artwork. But now that Atoms For Peace is rolling out its new singles and album, that album cover becomes part of a larger collection of pieces all tied together by the same thematic look: A stark black and white color scheme and intricately rendered pop art-meets-woodcut-style illustrations that just pop right off the screen.
It’s clear that Donwood has extrapolated this style for not only AMOK, but the artwork for the two singles, “Default” and “Judge, Jury And Executioner” as well as the non-album track “What The Eyeballs Did.” On the Atoms For Peace website, you can see that these images are just part of a long, side-scrolling interactive panoramic Donwood has created.
The art for AMOK is above, but here’s all the others, so far:
“Judge, Jury And Executioner” single:
“What The Eyeballs Did” single:
Now Donwood has even taken that theme a step further into something groundbreaking. Back in December, when Atoms For Peace originally announced its upcoming album release date, it came paired with an animated GIF of a sprawling drawing on a building, rendered in the same style as Donwood’s artwork. In a press release, Donwood described the image as a “scene of armageddon in modern Los Angeles.”
The scene was part of a collaboration between Donwood and the artist INSA, who painted several murals based on the artwork onto the walls of record label XL’s L.A. office building. The various murals were photographed and turned into an animated GIF for a project they’re calling “Hollywood Dooom”
Here’s Donwood’s lengthy explanation about the original art:
“Los Angeles is, of course, fucked. Everything is fucked, all of our cities, all of our towns, our villages, our farms, our entire way of living. and I don’t mean fucked in a good way, oh no; I mean it in a very, very bad way. Our energy rich and culturally complacent society has doomed everything, and really, we all know this. Or at least, we should do. We have run out of everything, pissed it up against the wall, blown it, spent it, wasted it. We’ve run out of money, of oil, of gasoline, of water, of food, of any resources, of energy, of everything. We are reduced to trying to blast pathetic amounts of gas from solid rock and we don’t care if we poison our water while we’re doing it.”
“The apocalypse is already here, and the saddest thing is that we’re trying to fool ourselves that it isn’t happening. Our politicians are fucking idiots, our heroes are fools, our industries are dying, our farmland is trashed and our culture resembles nothing more than a self-devouring joke. Our architecture is hideous and our art revels in empty platitudes. There is no future; we have evicted ourselves from our own cities, rendered our agriculture poisonous, criminalised the poor, aggrandized the rich, honoured the stupid and ridiculed the intelligent. I don’t pretend to stand outside this fucking mess. I’m just as guilty as anyone.”
Conceptually, GIFs have really exploded again in the last few years, as a continuous, looped image, not totally unlike a snippet of a sample, looped into a larger musical song, say one written by Atoms For Peace. I love how this stuff all fits together and in all makes a cool grouping of images that seem to now completely fit the mood of the band’s music. I could totally envision Thom Yorke and friends incorporating these visuals on stage in some way or another. I can’t wait to see how.