Jonny, Thom and a CR78
Radiohead Releases New Live Recordings
About two weeks ago, Radiohead posted a live-recorded performance of “The Numbers” from their latest album A Moon Shaped Pool. While the band is known for keeping a tight lid on all recordings and sessions, the video appears to be the second installment in a series of minimalistic recordings, featuring lead singer Thom Yorke and guitarist Jonny Greenwood accompanied by a CR78 analog drum machine. The first video, a recording of “Present Tense,” arrived about a month ago.
Initially, albeit briefly, constrained by roots in English prep school, the group’s metamorphosis began when fuzzy grunge rock progressed into the introspective electronica they’re known for today. A Moon Shaped Pool, released this past May, is another timeless continuation of their penchant for melancholic brooding. Greatly informed by Yorke’s dissolved marriage and the passing of executive producer Nigel Godrich’s father, meditations on eternal love surface in both “Daydreaming” and the closer “True Love Waits.” The latter arrives in a rare new arrangement, 15 years after appearing on the group’s only live album, I Might Be Wrong. Over two and a half decades have passed since the group formed, a maturity that allows them to find warmth in nocturnal places.
This past summer was full of quiet yet relatively significant steps in the direction of transparency for the band. Upon collaborating with Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos and the IT Crowd’s Richard Ayoade on abstract shorts paired with snippets from MSP, they opened their “vignette” competition to their Instagram followers. @Affinitia’s was announced the winner for a vibrant animated pairing to “Daydreaming”.
Much of Radiohead’s mystique stems from their rigid policy on secrecy. Glimpses into the lives of band members often arrive through side projects, like Jonny’s work with film scoring or Thom’s involvement with Atoms for Peace, yet the group leaves no hint of slowing down. It’s hard to imagine they have any specific goals left in mind, although in an interview with countryman and longtime fan Daniel Craig, Yorke stated time away from music drives him “stark-raving mad.” With a “healthy cynicism to make sure that nothing remains static,” Yorke maintains that if he starts to feel he’s mastered his craft, he moves on, because his work is “probably shit.”
In Rolling Stone’s power rankings of the greatest singers of all time, Yorke’s “high, keening sound” landed at 66. Defiantly bold, yet teeming with fragility that frustrated Yorke himself, Kid A reflected a man familiar enough with electronic mastering to mechanize his own breath. They often discover each sound integrated into a piece by trial and error, a lengthy but necessary process. The two CR78 videos come as only their third and fourth official YouTube uploads of the year.
Among the visual works to be included in the MSP canon, both Present Tense and The Numbers were directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson, best known for sprawling epics exploring the dysfunctional lives of misfits around Southern California, also directed the group’s video for promotional single “Daydreaming.” His relationship with the band is long-standing, as Greenwood scored his widely celebrated films There Will be Blood and The Master, as well as appearing in Junun, Anderson’s non-fiction exploration of Indian spirituals. The two are promoting the film throughout Europe this November.
Anderson, an NYU film-school dropout, often handles slower moments with grace — a proponent of natural lighting, soft edges and long takes. Whereas the studio recordings of both tracks are intricate, layered compositions, here they are stripped to their barest — simply Jonny, Thom & a CR-78.
Anderson’s style effortlessly complements the calm and contained performance, as the extended, gentle pushing in of the camera envelops us in the acoustics before any cuts are made. The effects are trancelike. Both the gloomy oceanside morning and cool fireside settings were filmed in Anderson’s private garden in Tarzana, California this past August — Godrich’s mastering happens at its own pace. While fans should treat expectations of more videos like these with their own healthy cynicism, the prospect of more work from the group is exciting. The high standards are felt in a word after Yorke murmurs, “probably,” just after finishing an immaculate rendition of The Numbers.
With the MSP tour wrapped up, there are no live performances in the foreseeable future. In the holdout, this may become your friend.