Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Electronic Naturalism of Radiohead's New Single

With very little warning, Radiohead released their newest album on Friday. Entitled The King of Limbs, it feels very much like the natural progression from 2007's In Rainbows. Here's the first single (along with Thom Yorke's interpretive dance) below. Disclaimer: Anyone who has seen this band live (which includes myself) will find the dance perfectly normal.

Now that you've had a chance to experience the track and the video directed by Garth Jennings (Blur's "Coffee & TV" and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), here are the visuals this track brought to mind.

In general, the track has a very structured feel. The first thing that comes to mind is lines that move from right to left and occasionally intersect others, causing them then to move off in new directions. This is striking for two reasons. First, right to left motion is very unusual when I listen to music and also unsettling. It feels like walking the wrong way on one of those moving walkways at the airport. Second, the imagery was very angular with the intersecting lines only ever making perfect right angles. While geometric shapes aren't unusual, such perfectly defined and unchanging angles are.

All this brought to mind Piet Mondrian's famous painting Broadway Boogie Woogie (1943). It captures the lines and movement, as well as the irregularity of when the right angles occurr. It also shows the colors of the lines which throughout the song were striking shades of yellow, blue, and red (all the primary colors, interestingly enough). This fabulous dress displays similar characteristics.

  Primary Color Dress
Broadway Booge Woogie (1943) by Piet Mondrian
Vintage Primary Color Dress from Marjie W $32

The look of Mondrian's work and the dress, however, are a little too bright to truly capture the song. It's as if there is always a slate grey curtain behind them, which is revealed in the white spaces. The lines are still vibrant, but the white is less so, capturing a certain darker quality of the song.

8 x 10, Single Unframed Giclee Print, Kaleidoscope Series sale /// Vintage 1970s PREP SCHOOL Cotton Plaid Blazer
Giclee Print of Wood Sculpture Art - Kaleidoscope Series by Paint Square $22
Vintage 1970s Cotton Plaid Prep School Blazer from Lady Moon Vintage $20

While the above works capture the overall feel of the track, there are a couple of other musical elements which stand out and add some characteristics to the continuously moving structure of the image. 

Yorke's hand clapping, for example, stands in stark contrast to all of the digital effects, making them sound especially fleshy, almost grotesquely so. This gives the image pops of skin-colored tones, which, because the claps are so erratic and irregular, never really appear in the exact same shade. They are sometimes very pale and at other times rich and dark.

The Flesh Crawls - Oil Painting on Maple Plywood Panel ORIGINAL Size 6.5 Vintage Shoes Ankle Booties Flesh Toned Tan Leather Boots Slip Ons 1980s 80s Western Desert Lizard Embossed
The Flesh Crawls oil painting on maple plywood panel by Jamie Ribisi-Braley $200
Vintage Tan Leather Ankle Boots from Vintage Shoes and Boots $25

Another element which stood out was the sort of "swooshing" effect which occasionally gathers steam and grows louder before fading out again, returning periodically throughout the song. This sound causes waves of blue to emerge in the lower right and then curl towards the left, growing in size along the way. It's almost like watching the tide come in on the east coast.

ON THE WINGS OF LIGHT Abstract Oil Painting Vortex Love Vintage 1950s BLUE DREAM Floral Day Dress M
On the Wings of Light oil painting by Maureen Campbell $425
Vintage 1950s Blue Dream Floral Day Dress from Spun Sugar Vintage $48

Despite the song's mainly electronic feel and the strict structure of some of the imagery, it is remarkable to me how organic ideas such as flesh and water manage to enter into the scheme. So often electronic music seems cold and detached, but somehow this Radiohead track steers clear of that, evoking something natural and organic, a real testament to this band's growth over the years.


The press photos released in advance of the album show the members of Radiohead in mid to late 19th-century garb posing in a forest. Playing with this idea is the black and white "Lotus Flower" video which features Thom Yorke in a bowler hat and ambiguous collared shirt (true to press photos) also sporting what looks like a pair of Converse sneakers (a very playful touch). Here are some items to create that same playful vintage look!

Butch Brown Stetson Derby Bowler Hat and Box Vintage 80s 90s Classic White Shirt with Subtle Colorful Plaid Print
Vintage LEVIS 505 Straight Leg Faded Blue JEANS Low Top Plaid Converse Size 11

Vintage Butch Brown Stetson Derby Bowler Hat from Dapper Dean $88
Vintage Classic White Shirt with Plaid Print from 1thingleads $16
Vintage Levis 505 Straight Leg Faded Blue Jeans from Les Saispas Vintage $24
Vintage Low Top Plaid Converse from Vanity Vintage $50

1 comment:

  1. Wow. This is probably the most amazing blog I've seen in awhile. Thanks for featuring my dress. and I am serious - I love your aesthetic!


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