Low-Flying Panic

May 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

Radiohead made sure that the release of their new single, “Burn the Witch,” was an event, by going dark on all of their social media platforms and then posting two samples of the video on Instagram before the whole video went up on Youtube on Tuesday.

Today saw the release of another single and video, “Daydreamer,” and the announcement of the release of a new album, the band’s ninth, on Sunday.

“Burn the Witch” has apparently been in the vault since the days of Kid A, which was released the month before George W. Bush was elected, and it absolutely continues some of the themes of fear, isolationism, and oppression that the band’s best music from that era evoked. At The New Yorker, Amanda Petrusich finds in the song’s lyrics (e.g., “this is a low-flying panic attack”) a humanistic critique of the mob mentality that Internet culture perpetually rewards:

Yorke once gave wild voice to the dispossessed (“I’m not here, this isn’t happening,” he moans on “How To Disappear Completely,” from “Kid A,” a lyric so suffused with grief it’s hard not to press your hands over your ears), but now he’s assumed the point of view of the autocrat, the bully: “Avoid all eye contact, do not react, shoot the messengers.” The stop-motion video for “Burn the Witch” is set in a whimsical village where ordinary-seeming human beings do horrifying things to each other for reasons that remain largely unclear, except that they appear to be following the guidance of a demagogue-like figure, dressed in a uniform and medallion. The clip seems inspired, in equal parts, by the British children’s series “Trumpton” (the name of which does not feel coincidental), and the horror film “The Wicker Man,” from 1973.

The video’s allusions are coy. The whimsical village is pre-industrial, complete with a model of itself that would seem to be able to be manipulated in the way any user wishing to be in control would want. The visiting character makes notes on his clipboard; he is, essentially, a commenter from the outside. And it’s probably not an accident that the clip begins with a shot of a bird in a tree, literally twittering.

While “Trumpton” may be the more likely inspiration, to me the animation in “Burn the Witch” more accurately resembles the short midcentury animated films of Karel Zeman, starring the character known as Mr. Prokouk.

Mr. Prokouk became such an iconic character in pre-Prague Spring Czechoslovakia that he appeared in the title cards for the government film archive during what became known as the Czech New Wave.

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