Radiohead have been dropping plenty of hints about their upcoming ninth album but nothing’s set in stone, here’s what we know so far
One of 2016’s most eagerly anticipated albums, Radiohead’s follow-up to 2011 album The King of Limbs, is expected to drop imminently. ‘Head fan fever reached a state of delirium on Tuesday after three teaser videos were posted on the group’s Instagram account, and The Trumptonshire Trilogy meets The Wicker Man stop-animation video for new single Burn The Witch arrived soon after. Just this morning the band posted an ominous video of Thom Yorke crossing an empty parking lot. Previously, fans received leaflets by post featuring artwork and the words, “Sing a song of sixpence that goes” along with “Burn the Witch’ and “we know where you live” – later revealed as references to the song’s lyrics. Between Saturday and Tuesday, Radiohead (or their team) made moves to update or delete images and words from their website and social media platforms. Their online purge extended to removing The King of Limbs and singles The Daily Mail and Staircase from Spotify, two weeks after streaming services shed their pre-In Rainbows discography. Radiohead fans accept this disruptive and unpredictable behaviour with familiarity.
At present, Burn the Witch is the only taste of the ninth record so far. Further information still scarce, and speculation, comments, and details have come in fits and starts. Last month, there was a brief frenzy when a member of Radiohead’s management team, Brian Message, said the new album will be out in June and is “like nothing you’ve ever heard”. Radiohead’s publicist counteracted with a statement that Brian Message “is not Radiohead’s manager and plays no operational role” and that any quotes “should not be seen as official or on behalf of the group”. Despite intense fan reactions and the purge of online material, there has been no word yet from Radiohead’s camp on any details about what is being called “LP9”, other than confirmation of Burn The Witch‘s availability to purchase and stream on Tuesday. The press has regularly asked for comments, and the persistent message has been: “Nothing to offer at this time.”
Ahead of their sold-out tour – which starts this month – and a summer of expectation, it’s anyone’s guess as to what happens next. We’d suggest a certain level of caution when making any kind of assumptions with Radiohead. That said, here’s a rundown of what we know from album number nine’s humble beginnings in 2013 to now.
Time, sound, and space
An exact timeline for the LP9 sessions is unknown but it is believed to have started in Autumn 2014 after Jonny Greenwood confirmed to BBC 6 Music that Radiohead would “start playing, rehearsing and recording in Sept.” In late 2015, Consequence of Sound reported that the album was finished, with Greenwood and Thom Yorke both denying the mistranslation from an interview Greenwood did with a Russian journalist. According to the ever dedicated /r/Radiohead users, possible locations for the recordings include studios in Los Angeles, Nashville, and London.
Whereas The King of Limbs emphasised Radiohead’s rhythm section (according to Ed O’Brien, “Rhythm is the king of limbs! The rhythm dictates the record. It’s very important”), LP9 will possibly be dictated by their use of synths and strings. In December 2014, Nigel Godrich tweeted two photographs of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood at the helm of analog modular synthesisers. In 2015, frequent collaborator and composer Robert Zeigler shared a series of now deleted studio photos that included an orchestra – their presence now confirmed on Burn The Witch. Sonically, we can expect the same from the single after the video’s animator Virpi Kettu told Billboard what she’d heard is “very dark.” Even drummer Philip Selway was unsure when asked by Ghostpoet for The Talkhouse, saying: “I have absolutely no idea – that’s what keeps us there until the end.”
Old songs, new beginnings
Radiohead’s habit of using old songs for new albums includes Burn the Witch (a track debuted live in 2006) and Morning Mr Magpie on The King of Limbs (a track debuted by Thom Yorke in a 2002 webcast) and Nude on In Rainbows. A frontrunner will be a song dating back to 1996 called Lift that Radiohead played live during their Bends tour. It has remained previously unrecorded, solely because they “never found the right arrangement for [it]” according to Jonny Greenwood. In December 2015, Thom Yorke debuted two new songs in Paris called Silent Spring and Untitled which are thought to be non-solo songs, given that Yorke paused during Silent Spring to say “[this is] Jonny’s bit, which I can’t play”. Others could include Ful Stop (Yorke shared an article referencing the song in a now deleted tweet) and Dawn Chorus, a song Yorke mentioned during an interview in 2009.
Stanley Donwood's involvement
Stanley Donwood has overseen Radiohead’s visual work since 1994 after working on the sleeve for their single My Iron Lung. As recently as March, Donwood confirmed a reprisal of his role, calling the album “a work of art” and adding that his favourite contribution is “the one that no-one’s seen yet” to DIY. Asked whether he had completed the artwork, Donwood added that “there’s quite a lot I still have to do.” Recent imagery from the band’s website and social pages hint that we could have seen the album’s artwork already. They include the black and white Facebook and Twitter avatars; the birds-eye view of rocks (with a figure of a witch?) with the group’s name in pink used for tour posters; and, of course, the monochrome image used on the flyers posted to fans.
A new dawn, a new day
In January, it came to light that Radiohead had registered a company called “Dawn Chorus LLP” in October 2015 and Dawnnchoruss Ltd shortly after. Presumably these were businesses open to allow the band to tour after the announcement of their initial summer shows. These actions are noteworthy as they enacted the same method in advance of In Rainbows (Xurbia Xendless Ltd) and The King of Limbs (Ticker Tape Ltd). These company name changes and the online catalogue shifts (XL Recordings purchased the rights to the band’s music from EMI/Parlophone in April) allow Radiohead to ringfence and protect themselves from a significant loss to other investors if each project fails.
Additionally, the flyers delivered on Saturday 30 April arrived a day before International Dawn Chorus Day – an annual celebration held on the first Sunday in May – the day Radiohead began their online purge. It seems obvious that the album could be called Dawn Chorus but if you’re one to speculate further, remember that the sound of a dawn chorus can cause sleeping difficulties.