One City

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House of Cards

Stillman Brown is the seventh member of the band (after Nigel Godrich).
I haven’t been taken with the beauty of a music video in a while (Zero 7 had a good one back in the day), but Radiohead’s “House of Cards” grabbed me this morning.
YouTube Preview Image
For an interesting discussion of how it was made, look here. It was created without film or cameras – three types of scanners were used to create the images. Only Radiohead.

I find the song simultaneously prophetic and oddly calming, and these sensations correspond to the two readings I see in the lyrics. One one hand, it is perhaps the most simple and direct ballad Yorke has ever penned. It also continues the band’s running engagement with the apocalyptic and post-societal. Thom Yorke’s deep and public concern with global warming (he’s a spokesman for Friends of the Earth) has informed many of his songs since Kid A (and perhaps more indirectly, the manic transcendence of Ok Computer). For example, from the vintage Idioteque:


Ice age coming
Ice age coming
Let me hear both sides
Let me hear both sides
Let me hear both
Ice age coming
Ice age coming
Throw ’em in the fire
Throw ’em in the fire
Throw ’em on the
We’re not scaremongering
This is really happening

It’s worth noting that Kid A was released in 2000, when the factuality of global warming was still in contention (remember that? the dithering? the Maybe?), and skeptics were called Critics instead of Deniers. For Yorke and, I assume, the band, it was an early and engrossing preoccupation.
Yorke has said one of the triggering images for the song was disintegration and “House of Cards” seems to speak, in part, to a mass breakdown of mechanical technology and public works. But Yorke sings in such a gentle, ethereal voice that it actually sounds pretty nice, like a nap on a summer afternoon.


The infrastructure will collapse from voltage spikes
Throw your keys in the bowl
Kiss your husband good night

The images come easily: power surges unchecked through blackened breakers at substations, pulsing through an empty city cut off by crumbling bridges, skyscrapers riven apart slowly by vines and weather. I Am Legend without the zombies (or, blessedly, Will Smith).
And for all of us going happily about our energy-using, carbon-belching lives:

Denial Denial Denial

At least, that’s my take. Whatever the byzantine meaning of Thom Yorke’s lyrics – brilliant band, beautiful video.

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posted August 30, 2008 at 10:41 am

I’ll buy that reading, Stillman. Beautiful song. The resolution on the video seems really crappy (maybe that’s just YouTube), but the whole thing definitely feels post-apocalyptic — as in, looking back on the time before the apocalypse (that sorta party scene, the wires going) with damaged post-apocalyptic vision.

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