“What if I don’t feel anything?” This is the only thing on my mind when “Burn the Witch” was released Tuesday morning, the first song from Radiohead’s imminent ninth album and their first release since 2011’s King of Limbs. While Radiohead was busy meticulously erasing their website and social media presence, I wrestled the forces of expectation and the overflow of noise that filled this Radiohead-less five year gap. I have been primed by the ominously poetic gestures of the past enough times to know very well that Radiohead’s disappearing act on Sunday was not a self-indulgent white flag rather the benevolently habitual signaling of an alarm. They warned us, as they often do.
As rich in disruptive, dystopian commentary on societal atrocity and the extinction of the individual as “Burn the Witch” is, it is just as profoundly relevant in what it doesn’t address: the swollen negative space. When Thom Yorke sleepily instructs “Shoot the messenger,” I can’t help but think he has us collectively pegged as both the hunter and the hunted. This is Radiohead’s signature grandiose apocalypse reimagined.
The steady building seizure of strings dance between a sun-drenched reincarnation and a Hitchcock-ian shower stabbing, resuscitating Radiohead’s kinship with symphonic depravity. “Burn the Witch” elicits an internal strangulation that both induces a nightmare and lulls you back to sleep once you’ve stopped screaming.
Watch the unsuspectingly sinister video below:
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