I have to admit that I find most popular music of any type today banal and childish if not disgusting. With the exceptions of albums I am suggested by someone like Jeffrey St. Clair, who has that rare gift of sonic hindsight combined with a sense of history regarding how the music business actually works, I tend to find myself saying to inquiring folks that I prefer not to listen to anything recorded either since 1968 or before Miles Davis died, depending on how much of a sassy mouth I want to be that day. Because let us be honest, there has not been a decent piece of mainstream media art, at least in terms of a film or album and probably also the novel, for a good two decades. Even the recent STAR WARS picture was, after all said and done, pretty under-whelming.
And then there is Radiohead, a band which, at least for me, is the Billie Holiday of our generation. Holiday’s music was haunting, it tackled harsh social issues with a dignity all its own, and the vocals were ethereal in a way that makes her resound in the heavens all these decades later, not to mention the fact the soundscapes on her recordings are lush. Thom Yorke’s solo album The Eraser is a masterpiece all its own, particularly the single Harrowdown Hill, a song written about the mysterious death of British biological weapons specialist Dr. David Kelly, a man who tried to scuttle Tony Blair’s march to war. Yorke saw the tragic symbolism of an honest man sacrificed to Moloch as a symbol of our civilization. Dr. Kelly’s death, interestingly enough, also serves as a sad but very true rebuttal of another such sacrifice, that of Ralph Nader. With the election coming this year, there is a Green party presidential bid that is going to face the typical Nader baiter nonsense that says Iraq is all Ralph’s fault. But if that were the case, why was Tony Blair so willing to go to war that he set the hounds loose on Kelly?
Burn the Witch, the first single released from this new album, is a subversive clay animated short directed by Chris Hopewell. It is reminiscent in design and orientation of the English village serials set in the pre-World War I era. It seems obviously informed by an anti-authoritarian strand of thinking that I found quite enjoyable.
Daydreaming, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and featuring Thom Yorke walking through a series of doorways that lead into vastly dislocated rooms and settings, is a metaphor for the sort of dislocation and displacement one experiences throughout life in the neoliberal epoch. It is a metaphor for the kind of temporal and spatial dislocation one experiences in a world as chaotic and compartmentalized as our own. The soundscapes are rich and luxurious while also being haunting.
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