Finally. Finally, after years of waiting at the computer, years of feverishly checking Twitter timelines, years of refreshing Pitchfork’s front page — new material has arrived.
After their internet presence ominously dissipated, Radiohead teased new material on Instagram before releasing “Burn the Witch” unto the world (along with a lively music video that crosses the animation of ‘Trumpton’ with the horror of ‘The Wicker Man’) — a song that turns out to be a thrilling barrage of frenetic, tense music juxtaposed against a critique of the chaotic nativist politics that have plagued much of the Western world as of late.
With a discography that contains the likes of “Karma Police” and Hail to the Thief, Radiohead isn’t a stranger to relevant societal commentary. Few bands can accurately claim to possess as illustrious of a socially conscious and societally critical repertoire of music as Radiohead can. Among its songs addressing political malfeasance and the woes of consumerism (among other things), “Burn the Witch” is a new, pointed message from the band concerning the boisterously authoritarian rhetoric that seems to have become commonplace among both European and American political leaders. With Thom Yorke commanding listeners to “Abandon all reason / Avoid all eye contact / Do not react / Shoot the messengers,” the song acts as an illustration of the kind of rhetoric and civil complacency that allows for the sort of “witch” burning seen both in the song’s music video and in the political landscapes of a variety of Western societies. In a world where Donald Trump is now definitively challenging for the American presidency on a platform permeating with xenophobia and borderline-fascist demagoguery, it’s telling.
“Burn the Witch” is largely a continuation of Radiohead’s fascination for combining elements of acoustic and electronic music to form the kind of offbeat melodies that have become the band’s signature. The orchestral percussion underpins the subtle electronic base that pushes the song along, creating a song more traditionally Rock in nature but still anchored in the outré aesthetic that makes Radiohead.
Both gorgeous and chilling in its aura, “Burn the Witch” satiates much of the hunger felt by Radiohead’s fan base since its last release over five years ago. Whether the song will reflect the kind of direction their new album will take is uncertain, but “Burn the Witch” is certainly proof enough that the band has yet to go stale. It’s nice knowing that even after 30 years, Radiohead still has a penchant for keeping fans on their toes.