The nature and release date of Radiohead’s ninth album remains a mystery. Photos teased on Instagram, taken during their two years of studio sessions, depicting a string orchestra and synth set-ups, have led some to suggest the record could be a lush electro affair. Either way, the artist Stanley Donwood, who’s produced a lot of the band’s imagery, has called it “a work of art”.
For now, though, we’ll settle for this fine apéritif, a collaboration between veteran producer Mark Pritchard and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. Pritchard’s been in the game for almost three decades, spanning a dizzying array of dance genres, from techno to funk to ambient, along with a myriad of monikers: he’s been known as William Parrot, M. Meecham, Harmonic 313, Link and Troubleman, to name just a few.
Pritchard also has an album on the way. Recorded under his own name – as if he’s literally run out of enjoyably daft pseudonyms – and called Under The Sun , it’ll be released on Warp records on May 13. The label has been bigging it up as “ambient, nu-wave, avant-garde electronics and folk”, and the instrumental of new track ‘Beautiful People’ errs on the ambient side of that genre list.
Opening with melancholy, minimalist synth notes, which sound as though they’ve been cribbed form an elegiac ’70s New Hollywood film, it’s then rooted by clip-clopping percussion that ushers in Yorke’s eerie vocals. Warped, layered in reverb, his double-tracked voice glides along that icy refrain. The result is sad, but strangely calming; the whole song is like one, long wistful sigh.
Only snatches of the words can be made out, due to the distortion that Yorke’s vocal is fed through: “It’s my curfew / Beautiful people… I can’t go back / And I love you… The love is out / A flapping of wings… Flies out of the window.” Who can’t relate in some way to these mournful words of acceptance?
Pritchard has described ‘Beautiful People’ as a “personal song about loss, hopelessness and chaos”, adding: “ultimately the message is love and hope”. The most moving part of this beautiful song occurs halfway through, as the instrumental quietens down, only to build up again when Yorke repeats, “I can’t go back.” Whatever happens with new Radiohead album, it will undoubtedly find him forging a new path.