‘True Love Waits’ Illuminates Radiohead’s Mysterious Creative Process

After a week of cryptic teases, Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool dropped on May 8.
After a week of cryptic teases, Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool dropped on May 8.

The last few weeks have been a bit nuts for surprise album releases from music’s biggest names: Beyonce’s Lemonade, Drakes’ Views, James Blake’s The Colour In Anything. And that’s not even counting sudden releases a few months ago from Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West. So yeah, it’s already been a busy winter and spring.

As if that wasn’t enough, Radiohead then dropped hints of a new something, first by sending cryptic mailers to anyone on their UK mailing list — hinting at the a song “Burn The Witch” and a data privacy-alluding tagline “We know where you live” — and then removing all traces of content from the band’s internet presence and social media. Considering fans knew Radiohead had been working on and off on new music, plus a looming tour this summer, clearly something was happening soon. And then, Radiohead dropped a few breadcrumbs in the form of video teasers on Instagram. And later, the first full song and music video for “Burn The Witch,”

A few days later, they dropped “Daydreaming,” which coupled with a breathtaking short film video by director Paul Thomas Anderson.

Then, the new album dropped on Sunday at 2 p.m. and people like me threw away the rest of the weekend to download and listen.

There’s much to discuss and unpack with A Moon Shaped Pool, but after a few days I’ve yet to wrap my head around what Radiohead is doing. I’m sure there’s more thoughts to come about the band and its frequently evolving sounds and shapeshifting ambitions and themes.

Over at NPR Music, the staff was practically all hands on deck, listening to the record at the same time, and each jotting down some loose first reactions to the music, the moods and more. It was a ton of fun to be able be part of the genre-diverse array of writers and critics and producers and editors from the site, all coming together to weigh in from their various areas of expertise. So go check that out.

My short contribution about “True Love Waits” is there as well. And below, I have a longer version fleshes out a little bit of what I’m getting at. It’s messy and unedited and likely rambling, but putting it here for posterity.

Continue reading ‘True Love Waits’ Illuminates Radiohead’s Mysterious Creative Process

Thom Yorke Shows Off His Dance Moves In Atoms For Peace’s ‘Ingenue’

Thom Yorke dancing in the new video for "Ingenue" from his side-project Atoms For Peace. (Youtube)
Thom Yorke dancing in the new video for “Ingenue” from his side-project Atoms For Peace. (Youtube)

I’m no expert when it comes to dance, be it watching or taking part. And yet for me, sometimes there’s nothing better than watching a straight-up dance video.

Continue reading Thom Yorke Shows Off His Dance Moves In Atoms For Peace’s ‘Ingenue’

Album Art Trend: The Work Of Stanley Donwood And Atoms For Peace

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:

“Default” single:

“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.

Morning Commute Music Shuffle: 8 Feb 2012

A slightly abridged version of the songs that came up on shuffle on my iPod during my morning commute. A few I skipped over, but otherwise, here it is.

1) ARCADE FIRE, “Lenin” from Dark Was The Night

2) THE NATIONAL, “Lit Up” from Alligator

3) THE BEATLES, “Because” from Love

4) RADIOHEAD, “Idioteque” from Kid A

5) GROUNDTRUTHER, “Jupiter Mask” from Longitude

6) TOM WAITS, “Baby Gonna Leave Me” from Real Gone

7) MY BLOODY VALENTINE, “Nothing Much To Loose” from Isn’t Anything

8) XTC, “Knuckle Down” from English Settlement

9) THE PIXIES, “Something Against You” from Surfer Rosa

10) THE BAD PLUS, “Radio Cure” from For All I Care

11) BEE GEES, “Whisper Whisper” from Odessa

12) FIONA APPLE, “To Your Love” from When the Pawn…

13) KANYE WEST, “Get Em’ High” from The College Dropout

14) ISOTOPE 217, “Audio Boxing” from The Unstable Molecule

15) THE FLAMING LIPS, “Waiting For Superman” from The Soft Bulletin

Favorite Album Art Of 2011

I spend a lot of time listening to music throughout the year, making my lists of favorite records, the best songs and so on and on. But in the process I cannot help but look at and think about the album artwork and how that accompanies this music. Increasingly, in this digital age, album art is relegated often to postage stamp-sized icons on our screens and iPhones, already downsizing from the pretty small size of CDs. Maybe people do not think about album covers as much, yet I still love to stare over them like I did as a kid. And I still tend to buy albums in LP format because I like seeing that cover nice and big.

In lieu of a best albums of the year list, I decided to curate this list of my favorite album covers of the year. Below is but a sampling of some of the excellent artwork from 2011, some of which point to a few of the thematic trends in imagery, typography, illustration and intricacy.

Radiohead Debuts New Songs On ‘From The Basement’

The more I think about it, Radiohead probably released The King Of Limbs about three months too early. At the time it came out, I was incredibly happy to hear the music and loved the songs on it — the new direction towards groovier, more electronic-based dubstep songs felt organic and a natural evolution. No one is making music quite like Radiohead.

But, if I had one complaint about the the album — and this is a minor one I should say — it’s that to me did seem about two songs too short. At 35 minutes, it was spare and just as the album really started connecting and climaxing, it was over. Like I said, great songs, just maybe not enough.

Since the album’s release in February, the band released a special 12″ double single “Supercollider/The Butcher” for Record Store Day and eventually gave those songs away for free for those who bought the record. Those songs would have been perfect if sequenced within the full length. Now comes “Staircase,” a new song premiering as part of a Nigel Godrich’s video performance series From The Basement. (BBC will air a 55-minute broadcast of The King Of Limbs: Live From The Basement in which the band will be performing the entire album plus apparently a few other songs, including this one.)

The song is predictably great, but it also sounds like it would’ve sat nicely next to the songs on The King Of Limbs.

With a mix of electronic and acoustic drumming (two drummers!, in this case Clive Deamer joins for the song), some intricate guitar work, a peculiar chord progressions and a sturdy throbbing bass groove propelling the vamp, there’s a lot going on under this very danceable song. “Staircase” easily could have been a highlight on The King Of Limbs.

I’m loving this song, but I wonder if the valid arguments against Radiohead’s album length might’ve been cut down if they had included this and the other two songs way back in February. A band like Radiohead has earned every right to put out whatever they think is their best piece of work. But as consumers, music buyers — of which there are fewer and fewer of them these days — want to feel like they received something special and got a good value for their money. Otherwise, they’ll continue on downloading mp3’s for free. In that regard, it’s understandable that some thought this album didn’t deliver.

But all of this is just a side note to the fact that this song is really awesome and I wish it was on the album proper. Just a thought.

UPDATE (7/9): Radiohead has debuted another new song — this time it’s another video performance that’s leaked from the From The Basement session: “The Daily Mail.” Radiohead also played this live at their surprise appearance at Glastonbury a few weeks back.

This song is great too… man if they had just included these four on the damn album. I hope this and “Staircase” are released as another single/B-side soon. Check it out here:

Julianna Barwick’s Stunning ‘Reckoner’ Remix

Whoa, how did I manage to miss this one for at least a few years? Awhile back you might recall that Radiohead released “stems” for their song “Reckoner” from In Rainbows. These stems basically are individual tracks from the song, not quite the raw multi-track recordings, but rather they were grouped into different pieces like strings and rhythm guitar or background vocals or lead vocal or lead guitar or drums and percussion. With these stems they allowed you to remix the song and upload it to a cool site where you could vote on your favorites. The results were decidedly mixed as to be expected from such a project. But there were some gems.

Among them was Julianna Barwick’s version:

Now I vaguely remember hearing this one once or twice perhaps. I’ve known of Barwick now for a year or two and always admired her stuff. It simply never clicked with me who created this remix. But with Barwick’s new amazing masterpiece album The Magic Place, I am more than aware of who she is. That record completely sold on her ambient choral music: it’s transcendent, effervescent and absolutely stunning work.

Somehow, I guess I just missed this complete reinvention of one of my favorite Radiohead songs. It totally works and hints at how amazing a collaboration with Yorke could potentially be.

New Radiohead Video, ‘Lotus Flower’

After a strangely sleepless night, I woke up to an email saying the new Radiohead album The King Of Limbs had dropped a day earlier than expected. I quickly downloaded the mp3 files (I purchased the so-called special editiion “Newspaper Album” as well — though that will come out in May) and gave it a listen. The video for the first “single,” “Lotus Flower” also premiered — apparently in a public square in Tokyo. What I love about the video is the way it captures the flailing spasmodic dance moves that Thom Yorke does on stage. It’s like he’s exorcising his demons. Well done.

Best Song I’ve Heard All Day: A Cover And A Video

(parts 988 and 989 in a 1001 part series)

Really loving this video for “Tiny Head” by The Luyas:

I just really dig how simple and clean it is, but still manages to be artful. Based around the singer Jessie Stein, The Luyas are another Montreal-based band with ties to Arcade Fire — former multi-instrumentalist, Pietro Amato, and current violinist, Sarah Neufeld make up two of the band’s four members.

This band’s new album Too Beautiful To Work is coming out soon (Feb. 22) on Dead Oceans, a label that’s part of that Secretly Canadian\Jagjaguwar\Dead Oceans trifecta. Whenever I get something in the mail from one of these three imprint, I know there’s a very good chance I’m going to like whatever record is inside. And for this record, the band enlisted Owen Pallett to compose string arrangements.

Also be sure to listen to their fantastic cover of Radiohead’s “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” which employs low brass in a really excellent way. It’s also got some very solid electronic-inspired poly-rhythmic percussion which helps make this amazing song their own.

[audio:http://www.hellocomein.com/hellowords/soundbox/HelloShuffle/bestsongallday/Luyas_MotionPictureSoundtrack.mp3]

Reblogging: Radiohead Covers Neil Young

This is probably all over the blogs by now, but I just found this morning on Stereogum. Check out Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood performing one of my favorite Neil Young songs, “Tell Me Why” from After the Goldrush at the Hollywood Bowl. Pretty amazing.

[audio:http://www.hellocomein.com/hellowords/soundbox/Radiohead_TellMeWhy_v2.mp3]

(There is also another version from the same concert, showing “Faust Arp” right before hand.)

[youtube]kHIJcx9EB94[/youtube]

And for good measure… Here is Wilco and Fleet Foxes performing a great cover of Bob Dylan and the Band’s “I Shall Be Released.” Fleet Foxes fantastic vocal harmonies really suit a song like this…

[youtube]RmZfV6tqbTU[/youtube]