weekend silliness: a new Radiohead song
This week the weekend silliness comes a bit before the weekend because I can’t contain my excitement about how Radiohead released its newest song. So I offer this up now and will say a few words about Andrew Hetherington’s talk in SF yesterday next week. (I admit I like having a little time to digest.) Read on even if you’re not a Radiohead fan – I think the music industry got an early start on what the photography/editorial world is going through. There’s a lesson about the nature of the internet and digital media in here somewhere. Grab a sammich, this is a chock-full long ‘un…
A little before 11pm GMT Wednesday night, a user named “crza” uploaded a song titled “These Are My Twisted Words” to the invite-only torrent site What.CD and it wasn’t long before someone noticed it and posted the discovery to the messageboards at the fansite At Ease. Pretty soon the likes of Rolling Stone and Pitchfork had picked it up off the fan boards, as they’re wont to do since Radiohead doesn’t tend to go through the press when they pull these stunts. Sirius even played it.
What’s interesting to me is that not only was this an internet release but it wasn’t even really handled by the band. They simply let it loose on a p2p network and rabid fans dug it up, spread it all over the net. They didn’t have to handle bandwidth, hosting, anything. There was no need for any semblance of “officialness.” I’m not sure that it could be called a proper leak since all evidence seems to indicate that it was an intentional act, not the least of which is the fact that the band has not come out and refuted anything. More telling is a .nfo text/info file included with the mp3 (a habit in the scene groups?) held a message in Yorke’s characteristically cryptic manner that seems to suggest that something will happen this upcoming Monday. Rumored distribution of a new EP? Official release of the track?
Jonny Greenwood (? inferred)
Some comments Yorke made about mysterious future plans and being sick of lengthy albums in the current issue of the Believer suggest it’s very possible:
There’s a process of natural selection going on right now. The music business was waiting to die in its current form about twenty years ago. But then, hallelujah, the CD turned up and kept it going for a bit. So you have this top-heavy infrastructure. The press is top-heavy in the same way. You think, Why are these people surviving? Well, because they can just start reissuing the back catalog. The majors used to put huge pressure on us and everyone to put extra stuff at the end – give the shop something extra to sell. As if your forty minutes of blood and sweat isn’t enough. They were charging too much for the CD – they knew it, and they were trying to justify it with extra stuff.
[Bonus: NY Times piece sent around our station lists noting the “shift in media consumption by young people” from “an acquisition model to an access model.”]
I’m not very interested in the album at the moment. I’ve got this running joke: Mr. Tanaka runs this magazine in Japan. He always says to me, “EPs next time?” And I say yes, and he says, “Bullshit.” But I think really, this time, it could work. None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off. It worked with In Rainbows because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we’ve all said that we can’t possibly dive into that again.
It’s also linked up to this whole thing about what is the band, what is the method of how we get together and work. Jonny and I have talked about sitting down and writing songs for orchestra and orchestrating it fully and then doing a live take of it and that’s it – finished. We’ve always wanted to do it, but we’ve never done it because we’re always taking songs that haven’t been written for that, and then trying to adapt them. With things like that, you think, Do you want to do a whole record like that? Or do you just want to get stuck into it for a bit and see how it feels?
[Bonus: The Australian interviews Jonny Greenwood about his work with the BBC Orchestra.]
We’ve actually got a really good plan, but I can’t tell you what it is, because someone will rip it off. But we’ve got this great idea for putting things out. In a physical realm and a digital realm.
As you might remember, they released their last album, In Rainbows, online in that reviled pay what you like scheme. The criticism that I keep hearing, from critics as well as other musicians (Sonic Youth even), is that this sort of model is only viable if you’ve already got a good sized fan base. This is true, but it’s a terrible criticism that amounts to arguing that groups with the means to take on interesting projects shouldn’t because the rest of us can’t. What, we shouldn’t enourage people to construct gigantic spiders (see Conscientious, which you should donate to now that Joerg has put up a Paypal button) in the name of art because not many people can afford it?! That’s crap!
They’ve never shied away from stating that they made the choice to go down this road with financial considerations in mind, as everyone always does.
It also worked as a way of using the Internet to promote your record, without having to use iTunes or Google or whatever. You rely on the fact that you know a lot of people want to hear it. You don’t want to have to go to the radio first and go through all that bullshit about what’s the first single. You don’t want to have to go to the press. That was my thing, I am not giving it to the press two months early so they can tear it to shreds and destroy it for people before they’ve even heard it. And it worked on that level. And it also worked financially.
Some seem to take this to mean that it’s all a clever pseudo-viral marketing ploy. Which, I suppose, it is, but I think they forget that for a fan, the excitement is real and it’s centered on the music, not the product release. Before each release there is a frenzy of anticipation on the fan boards, even if it is a few hundred dedciated fans, a small portion of whom are obsessed that they are willing to transcribe archived audio interviews, make screen captures of user crza’s profile before it was hidden from public view, and reference webcomics that might be a source of the phrase used in the .nfo. Without the net, all these little bits of detective work would be ridiculous, not to mention virtually impossible in a short span of time, but it’s put up in public view, it takes on museum-like qualities, doesn’t it? And personally, I like that there’s an element of participation and effort to it, that you don’t necessarily just have to wait to be told. It’s an insane form of crowdsourcing energy that the band is exploiting (if that’s possibly the right word) for the public’s benefit.
Yorke talks more about the motivations behind the earlier release in the interview, but the Believer has pointedly not leaked the entirety of the article into the ether, so I’ll refrain from providing you complete contraband goods. Suffice it to say if you really determined to read the rest of it for free, you can figure out where from the sites I’ve mentioned. He also talks seriously about their efforts to contain the environmental damage of large international tours, the destroyed lightrails of LA and the need to make changes at the level of infrastructure, which only government can do efficaciously. It’s a good read, and it’s also the summer music issue that comes with a CD, so it might be worth picking up anyway.
So what all of this comes down to is that you can take a listen to the mp3 without guilt. I’ve recompressed it quite a bit to make it smaller, but it shouldn’t be noticeable unless you’re an audiophile. As for the song itself, it sounds like they’re getting a little more low key in their “old” age, but that signature mood is still there, so I like it.
Incidentally, to echo an earlier post, Radiohead and Stanley Donwood, the artist they collab with, are also a little obsessed with suburbia (all the visuals in this post were included as extras on the second In Rainbows disc):
Update 8/17: So it is.