The album is framed by two older pieces of music that act as gateways to the darker, unfamiliar waters within. Opener “Burn the Witch” has been floating around, in some form or another, since Kid A. “This is a low-flying panic attack,” Yorke announces, explicitly linking to the bad old days of air crashes, iron lungs, and wolves at doors. (In fact, several of the song’s lyrics—“avoid all eye contact,” “cheer at the gallows”—first appeared in the album art to 2003’s anti-Bush polemic Hail to the Thief.) Meanwhile, Jonny Greenwood’s brittle modernist string arrangement reinforces the angst, turning the orchestra into a giant pair of gnashing teeth. It’s a vintage splash of Radiohead stomach acid, a cloud of gnats unleashed in your cranial nerves.
It also feels like an exorcism for what follows: a plunge into something scarier than the military industrial complex, or the insidious nature of propaganda, or human nature’s disturbing tendency towards unquestioning obedience. Yorke separated from his partner of 23 years and the mother to his two children last August, and on “Identikit,” he sings “Broken hearts make it rain” and “When I see you messin’ me around, I don’t want to know.”