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Review: Microsoft’s Xbox One X

The Xbox One X is an impressive piece of hardware, and it takes care of a big chip on Microsoft’s shoulder.

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Review: Microsoft’s Xbox One X
Photo: Microsoft

The future is sitting on my shelf right now. This premium console, sporting a highly advanced processor, can play games from across three generations of consoles. It also includes a drive for a brand new home-media disc format for watching movies and playing games at a higher resolution than we’ve ever seen. Yes, the PlayStation 3 was a special system all right, but it was one that was fraught with risk factors—from its exorbitant price to its betting the farm on A/V standards that only a fraction of its audience has adopted yet—and it’s bizarre to watch Microsoft attempt all those same gambles in 2017 with the Xbox One X, considering how it turned out for Sony in 2006.

Sony foisted the PS3’s Blu-ray player on a marketplace that only just started figuring out what high-definition even was. Meanwhile, in 2017, 4K TVs are commonplace and far more cheaper than HDTVs were in 2006, and the infant 4K UHD Blu-ray format has far more stunning demo-disc material for the One X to show off than the Blu-ray format did in its nascent years.

The PS3 was released with a weak slate of launch titles, and for those jumping on the Xbox bandwagon for the first time, the One X has an instant library of hundreds of titles that, if not exclusive to the system, are in their best possible form on it. And perhaps most important is the fact that the PS3’s Cell processor was a labyrinthine mess to program on, notoriously causing several high-profile titles to run worse than their Xbox 360 counterparts. The One X is more like a high-end PC, which is the exact factor that made the 360 the system of choice for many developers in the previous console generation, leading to the best versions of some of its most beloved games.

That’s the main hook here for players and developers, and to answer the $64,000 question: Yes, the One X certainly does exactly what Microsoft has been touting in soft, reverent, and Manhattan Project-like tones the last few years. Whether a developer decides to put out a dedicated One X-dedicated patch or not, the extra horsepower—in layman terms, 1.5 times what the PlayStation 4 Pro is capable of—pushes console games far above and beyond what they’ve been capable of for most of this generation, which could mean anything from upscaling to 4K resolution, to higher framerates, to faster load times. Even if the change is subtle, there’s absolutely no doubt that the One X makes a noticeable and welcome difference to its entire library.

At bare minimum, the One X can give a game some extra quality-of-life boosts. Pretty much every title benefits from being upscaled to 4K if it wasn’t operating around that resolution before, with some games, like ReCore and Mass Effect, getting a nice upgrade in sharpness and clarity if nothing else. Elsewhere, the recently released Cuphead doesn’t gain anything visually, but the game suffered from some long load times when leaving a boss area to return to the overworld map, and those load times, sometimes up to a minute, have now been cut by at least half. Games like Bayonetta, Rage, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and Red Dead Redemption, which were absolute miracles on the technical level already, see similar improvements, with known problem areas (Bayonetta’s Climax attacks, Rage’s buggy races, Revengeance’s Blade Mode attacks, Red Dead Redemption’s weather changes) ironed out nicely, even beyond the minor boost provided by the One S.

The benefits of the extra power feel more impressive unleashed on games with unlocked framerates, or where performance was tied to the GPU/CPU limits of the prior Xbox systems. A prime example is Saints Row IV: Re-Elected, a baffling remaster that should’ve been a total home run on current-gen hardware, and yet suffered from wildly variable framerates, load times, and freezing, even on the PS4 Pro with its Boost Mode enabled. Busy areas still show some minor hitches, but by and large, the game hits a perfect 60fps on the One X far more consistently—and as it does on the PC—than on any other console. The same goes for Assassin’s Creed: Rogue and Grand Theft Auto IV, two games that have never played well on the 360 but are far more likely to reach for the 60fps promised land on the One X.

The most blessed improvement in that regard is the original Dark Souls, which was capped at 30fps but was so poorly optimized for consoles that even more than one enemy in an area could completely make the game into a slideshow, let alone the first appearances of a screen-filling dragon, or long-standing performance disasters like Blighttown. The worst-playing areas appear to be resolved, making the game, at long last, playable on consoles. The console doesn’t fix every problem in every game—Ninja Gaiden Black’s load times are still awful; Halo: Reach’s framerate is stable now, even if, visually, the game is still a blurry mess overall—but it’s definitely pushing these games in ways console players have only dreamed of for years now.

These, however, aren’t the experiences the One X is charging that premium price for. What the system is made to deliver are the full-on high-octane performance upgrades that supposedly leave the PlayStation 4 in the dirt. And yes, there are a few of them already. As far as Xbox exclusives are concerned, Halo 5: Guardians and Gears of War 4 are the golden children in this regard. Both were already highly impressive titles on the base hardware, but Halo 5’s upgrade makes a plethora of tiny new details and textures crystal clear. Look closely enough and you can see everything written on the tiny light-up display on every gun, the clear, inviting reflections of the environment in a puddle of water, debris falling all the way to the ground off of a giant robot floating hundreds of feet in the air. With Gears of War 4, while the improvements in textures offer a nice improvement over the original game on Xbox One S, the game can also be played at 60fps, making the oftentimes clunky firefights feel seamlessly frantic.

Quantum Break is a stellar but glitchy game that often appeared Vaseline-smeared, a problem it no longer has as a result of this system’s Enhancement patch. Rise of the Tomb Raider on the Xbox One was totally outclassed by a fantastic PS4 port last year, which is now, in turn, outclassed by a new patch on the One X that raises the resolution to a full 4K in its Enhanced Visuals mode. Xbox ports that seemed underwhelming in one aspect or another compared to the PS4 versions—Final Fantasy XV, Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Assassin’s Creed: Unity—are now rendered superior on the One X. Out of the more recent titles tested on the machine, the biggest night-and-day difference is with Middle-earth: Shadow of War, a game that had a solid but unremarkable visual presentation on PS4 Pro that now almost looks like a completely new jaw-dropping beauty of a game on the One X. This is now, undoubtedly, the most powerful home for console games.

So why, then, does the One X still feel like an uncertain gamble? It’s an impressive piece of hardware, and it takes care of that big chip on Microsoft’s shoulder: the Xbox One being technically inferior to the PS4. This, though, was only a small factor in why the Xbox One has fallen in esteem. Microsoft should know that, because being weaker than the PS3 didn’t stop the 360 from being a success. The 360 was Microsoft’s greatest triumph because it had games that the PS3 didn’t, and the developer wasn’t stingy about putting the experiences that those games had to offer front and center. Although the One X will have no problem presenting the best versions of cross-platform games, it’s a system that still doesn’t feel like it has an identity beyond its massive horsepower. There’s no tonal, prestige equivalent on the platform as inseparable from the Xbox One as The Last of Us, Horizon Zero Dawn, Infamous, and God of War are from the PS4, or Super Mario Odyssey, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Arms, or Splatoon 2 are from the Nintendo Switch, games that scream “This is the kind of experience you can only get here.”

The defining Xbox One games right now are still Halo 5 and Gears of War 4, two polished military shooters that don’t distinguish themselves very well against every other sci-fi military shooter in existence. Microsoft’s most recent attempt at a mascot platformer, Super Lucky’s Tale, is a very sweet, good-hearted family game that has the terrible misfortune of being culturally eclipsed by the most innovative Super Mario title in decades. Exclusive indie titles of the kind Microsoft used to be known for are almost all exclusively on Sony’s platform. The Xbox One’s best true exclusive—the enormously fun and irreverent Sunset Overdrive—has already gone down in gaming history as a cult title, and there are, as of the time of this writing, no plans to give it the One X Enhancement patch that would rightfully thrust it back into the spotlight to find the audience it deserves. The bulk of the best titles on the One X are mostly 360 and original Xbox games given new leases on life via the system’s admittedly miraculous backward-compatibility functions.

At $500, the One X is priced to exclude. Already-converted Xbox fans and gamers thirsty for high-quality 4K content will certainly find their faith in Microsoft rewarded, and can beam with pride at the technological superiority on display here. However, that price tag is a tall order for a system that has yet to push the envelope creatively in addition to visually, something its competition has been doing all year while “the most powerful console ever” has been in gestation. It’s worth looking back to 2006, however, when Sony was where Microsoft is now, with a powerful console, creatively lagging behind the 360 and the Nintendo Wii. They did the only thing they could do, which was march forward, and bring the best games imaginable to the system. What it could not bring, Sony made themselves. The result was that some of the best games of that generation didn’t start hitting the PS3 until the system had been out for 3+ years. The One X represents the best, freshest start Microsoft could’ve ever given themselves. They’ve shown what the technology can do for their past. How successful the system truly is depends on what they have planned for its future.

The Xbox One X is now available from Microsoft.

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Reflections in a Quilt: John McPhee’s The Patch

There’s something uncommonly relaxing about many of McPhee’s patient elaborations of things known and unknown.

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Reflections in a Quilt: John McPhee’s The Patch

“But beyond the flaring headlines of the past year, few are aware of who Richard Burton really is, what he has done, and what he is throwing away by gulping down his past and then smashing the glass.” This is one of those quotes, which, through its sheer heft and style, threatens to turn any accompanying review into a redundancy. To find other lines that meet its towering standard, seek its source: The Patch by John McPhee. There’s no shortage of arresting remarks in this nicely heterogeneous collection of writing. One sinks into the book, riveted, but also races across it as its fascinations multiply.

The first section is called “The Sporting Scene.” Those typically uninterested in sports or sports writing, like myself, shouldn’t be deterred by the title. As I discovered through other recent encounters with McPhee’s ballyhooed writing, the author has a knack for inexorably moving readers beyond their biases. Two-part New Yorker articles like “Oranges,” “The Pine Barrens,” and “Basin and Range,” which were later turned into books, are studious and propulsive. Fine-grained matters of geology or citrus aren’t exactly simplified in these articles, but wading through the density becomes an irresistible prospect thanks to the author’s intelligibility, wit, enthusiasm, and atmospheric touches. For an example of the latter, consider McPhee’s focus on the “unnatural and all but unending silence” of the Floridian orange groves that he visited. What’s more, he often conveys a certain sense of respectful understanding, as when he mentions that he has “yet to meet anyone living in the Pine Barrens who has in any way indicated envy of people who live elsewhere.”

Similar virtues spruce up the “The Sporting Scene.” Its pieces include emphases on fishing, football, golf, and lacrosse. McPhee honors the athletic endeavor by carefully illuminating its particulars. He busily supplies facts, anecdotes, ideas, and biographical details. In “The Orange Trapper,” for instance, he discusses his hunt for errant golf balls. It’s an engaging topic. He has learned, among other things, what occurs when you take a saw to a golf ball. You find the world: “Core, mantle, crust—they are models of the very planet they are filling up at a rate worldwide approaching a billion a year.” Other jolts arrive through the often remarkable conclusions to his paragraphs and pieces. The ending of “The Orange Trapper” is an especial wonder—a thrilling mobilization of words that elicits laughter and awe.

There are also bears: “Direct Eye Contact” is a compact assortment of hopes and advisements concerning bears in New Jersey, and it concludes on a sweetly uxorious note. Indeed, one never knows where any of these pieces are going. In “Pioneer,” meanwhile, McPhee ponders Bill Tierney’s choice to begin coaching the University of Denver men’s lacrosse team. “How could he leave Princeton?” McPhee asks. “It can be done. And Tierney knew what he was doing.” Those lines showcase the occasionally pithy, pleasantly chiseled style of his prose. It’s a considered design that favors clarity, structures hairpin turns toward new discursive trails, and pairs well with punchlines. In “Phi Beta Football,” one of McPhee’s colleagues promises to deliver him “a nice piece of change” if he figures out a suitable title for his book. “I went away thinking,” McPhee tells us, and then adds, “mostly about the piece of change.”

The recounting of sporting events is likewise augmented by the author’s playfulness. “Pioneer” throws us this line: “But Syracuse exploded—one, two, three—and the game went into ‘sudden victory’ overtime, the politically uplifting form of sudden death.” So transporting and genial is McPhee’s writing that the specifics of any given match never weigh down the reading, nor do his more elaborate remarks. “It’s a Brueghelian scene against the North Sea,” he declares in “Linksland and Bottle,” his piece on the 2010 British Open, “with golfers everywhere across the canvas—putting here, driving there, chipping and blasting in syncopation.” What’s even better is his sensitivity, in the same paragraph, to the fine distinctions between the manner of Scottish and Californian galleries as they observe rounds of golf. Suddenly, his words become almost numinous, and no grace is lost.

The second section of The Patch is called “An Album Quilt” and it encompasses a dizzying mixture of short pieces. None are available in any of McPhee’s other books. In an introductory statement, the author compares these pieces to the dissimilar blocks of a quilt. He notes that he “didn’t aim to reprint the whole of anything”; he sought out “blocks to add to the quilt, and not without new touches, internal deletions, or changed tenses.” This section is quite distinct from “The Sporting Scene,” but no less extraordinary in its overall effect. A piece about Cary Grant starts things off. Boyhood encounters with Albert Einstein are up ahead.

There are more standouts than can be briefly mentioned here, including an evocative overview of the craftsmanship that McPhee discovered within the original Hershey’s Chocolate Factory. The author’s clipped expressions of wonder enliven that piece: “Gulfs of chocolate. Chocolate deeps. Mares’ tails on the deeps.” A little later, he mentions “granite millstones arranged in cascading tiers, from which flow falls of dark cordovan liquor.” One can imagine Don Draper reading through this with poignant interest. In another entry, a series of succinct blurbs about tennis luminaries, Rod Laver’s childhood is crisply set against his eventual stardom: “Had to wait his turn while his older brothers played. His turn would come.”

And so one just leaps from piece to piece, and, along the way, discovers scenes from different periods in McPhee’s life and career. An encounter with two New York City policemen—this likely occurred in the ‘60s or early ‘70s, given the “familiar green and black” on the cop car—is particularly memorable. It begins with the author’s recollection of locking his keys inside his car, which, he notes, had been parked “in a moted half-light that swiftly lost what little magic it had had, and turned to condensed gloom.” After that characteristically precise fusion of atmosphere and psychology, he describes scrounging around for wire so as to open the door. The sudden arrival of the policemen created a dilemma: Would they view McPhee, who had been wedging a coat hanger into the car, as a thief or the hapless owner? “The policemen got out of the patrol car,” McPhee tells us, “and one of them asked for the wire.” From there, the situation undulates a couple more times before concluding through a sparkling punchline that’s supplied by one of the officers. The story is over before you know it, but its brisk and detail-oriented pleasures are echoed throughout much of the book.

In the title piece, meanwhile, McPhee movingly writes about his father, but also about fishing a pickerel out of a patch of lily pads. Here and elsewhere, granular descriptions become byways into a range of enthusiasms, histories, and hearts. The author, of course, frequently registers himself through the infinitesimal details, and through the humor that he yokes to affection. “‘Fuck you, coach!’ Quote unquote” is a message that McPhee once emailed to Bill Tierney. Great warmth radiates below the mantle of those words.

This, among sundry other qualities, keeps one reading. There’s also something uncommonly relaxing about many of his patient elaborations of things known and unknown. And there is, both within the book’s individual pieces and across its varied totality, a sense of constant renewal and revelation. As McPhee notes down somewhere amid the blocks of his quilt, “I could suddenly see it, almost get into it—into another dimension of experience that I might otherwise have missed entirely.”

John McPhee’s The Patch is now available from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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The 10 Most-Read Slant Articles of 2018

Our most-read articles of 2018 comprise pretty much everything we do best.

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The 10 Most-Read Slant Articles of 2018
Photo: Rockstar Games

Like last year, it wasn’t the most highly praised or viciously excoriated film, album, or TV show that garnered the most attention among Slant readers in 2018. It was a so-called “average” star rating of a video game that led to our most-read—or, rather, looked at—article of the year. More predictably, lists proved to be increasingly popular, particularly among cinephiles. Aside from a few pieces that didn’t make the cut—like our career-spanning interview with Jodie Foster and our five-star review of Synapse Films’s Blu-ray restoration of the original Suspiria—this list comprises pretty much everything we do best. Alexa Camp
 

The 10 Most-Read Slant Articles of 2018

10. The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century

Into the new millennium, horror films have retained their power to shock and outrage by continuing to plumb our deepest primordial terrors, to incarnate our sickest, most socially unpalatable fantasies. They are, in what amounts to a particularly delicious irony, a “safe space” in which we can explore these otherwise unfathomable facets of our true selves, while yet consoling ourselves with the knowledge that “it’s only a movie.” Budd Wilkins

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The 10 Most-Read Slant Articles of 2018

9. Album Review: Mariah Carey’s Caution

At a mere 10 tracks, Caution is Mariah’s leanest album in 25 years. With the exception of the formulaic “With You,” which sounds like an outtake from E=MC2, the R&B and adult contemporary-style ballads that launched (and re-launched) her career have been largely replaced here by textured, midtempo grooves. Caution feels like the album Mariah has wanted to make all along: one that throws caution to the wind and sees her embracing her inner weirdo. And, ironically, it took her ending up back at Sony Music to do it. Sal Cinquemani

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The 10 Most-Read Slant Articles of 2018

8. Game Review: Far Cry 5

With this entry, the Far Cry series has suddenly decided to crib story ideas from real American nightmares: the Ammon Bundy standoff, Jonestown, the Heaven’s Gate cult, Waco, the Westboro Baptist Church. It indulges a certain level of ejaculatory N.R.A. fantasy about a day when the Second Amendment saves the world, when all those guns hoarded by frightened men, all those survivalist bunkers, all that cynical preparation for the collapse of society proves useful. A regular supply item in this game is called a Prepper Pack. Major secrets are hidden in bunkers filled with canned food and ammo. These little hat tips toward the gun-toting survivalist sect might’ve been worthy of an eye roll had the game come out, say, prior to 2016. But at this particular moment in American life, those tips of the hat feel downright sinister. Justin Clark

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The 10 Most-Read Slant Articles of 2018

7. All 90 Best Picture Oscar Winners Ranked

It’s a rare type of cinephile who wasn’t introduced to the idea of film as more than just idle entertainment by the ritual of the Academy Awards. And it’s an even rarer type of cinephile who didn’t soon thereafter vehemently reject the Oscar as the ultimate barometer of a film’s artistic worth. Those of us who started off with The Godfather, Schindler’s List, All About Eve, or Casablanca all eventually got around to Out of Africa, Around the World in 80 Days, The Greatest Show on Earth, Cimarron, and Cavalcade. First loves being first loves, we still find ourselves regressing if for only one night a year, succumbing to the allure of instant canonization even as it comes in the form of repeated slap-in-the-face reminders of Oscar’s bracing wrongness: Gladiator, Braveheart, Chicago, Crash. In that sense, consider this project part cathartic exorcism and part sheepish capitulation to the role the Oscars have played in our lives. If we had to sit through every one of these movies, the least you can allow us is the chance to show you our scars. Eric Henderson

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The 10 Most-Read Slant Articles of 2018

6. Film Review: Aquaman

The best point of comparison for Aquaman is Black Panther, another superhero movie about a king of a forgotten realm reclaiming his throne. But whereas Ryan Coogler’s surprisingly affecting superhero film restored weight to both the choreography and the drama of the genre, Aquaman remains adrift, so much fantasy flotsam and jetsam floating before our eyes. Pat Brown

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The 10 Most-Read Slant Articles of 2018

5. The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time

When compiling this list, my colleagues and I elected to consider more than historical context. Greatness, to the individual, isn’t just about impact on some nebulous past. It’s as much about feeling, about the way a video game can capture the imagination regardless of genre or release date or canonical status. The titles on this list come from every corner of the medium—represented for the precision of their control or the beauty of their visuals or the emotion of their story. We’ve chosen to cast a wide net, so as to best represent the individual passions incited by saving planets, stomping on goombas, or simply conversing with vivid characters. Steven Scaife

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The 10 Most-Read Slant Articles of 2018

4. Film Review: Avengers: Infinity War

What is this, a crossover episode? After 18 films, the overlords at Marvel Studios have gathered almost all of their indentured servants, err, star-studded stable together into the ever-crashing, ever-booming, and ever-banging extravaganza Avengers: Infinity War. Whether you look at this whirling dervish and see a gleefully grandiose entertainment or a depressing exemplar of the culturally degraded present moment will depend on your investment—in all senses of that term—in Marvel’s carefully cultivated mythos. Keith Uhlich

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The 10 Most-Read Slant Articles of 2018

3. TV Review: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan

If Jack Ryan never gets around to offering its audience a definition of a swift transaction, that’s because all that matters to the series is that it’s a tool used by bad guys, whom only Jack Ryan can stop. Despite paying cursory service to humanizing its principal characters, Jack Ryan is mostly interested in a battle between broad notions of good and evil. It thrives on the tension of Jack’s chess match with bin Suleiman, reducing an entire nation’s efforts to combat terror to a personal beef between two archetypes. Michael Haigis

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The 10 Most-Read Slant Articles of 2018

2. Every Pixar Movie Ranked from Worst to Best

If The Incredibles was essentially a superhero riff on male mid-life crisis, Incredibles 2 primarily concerns male anxiety about women taking over traditionally masculine roles. Brad Bird’s film also touches heavily on the uncertainty and doubt that many women feel about pursuing their dreams at the expense of spending time with their families. These are weighty topics to pursue in an animated action-comedy, and Bird, with a light tone and deft touch, manages to give them their due. This is a fleeter, funnier film than the original, and the director gets considerable comedic mileage out of Jack-Jack’s wild capriciousness, as evidenced by Incredibles 2‘s single most hilarious sequence, in which the baby uses its multifarious abilities—fire, lasers, multiplying, turning into a gremlin—to battle a feral raccoon just for the hell of it. On the occasion of the film’s release, join us in revisiting the Pixar canon, ranked from worst to best. Keith Watson

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The 10 Most-Read Slant Articles of 2018

1. Game Review: Red Dead Redemption 2

For all of the significant improvements Red Dead Redemption 2 has made to an open-world template, however, it still maintains Rockstar’s bullish commitment to a clunky control scheme. Across what’s now four games and two console generations, the company’s characters have lumbered along in what’s meant to convey the weight of a real person in contrast to the light, effortless controls of so many other games. But the result is artificial rather than convincing. Studios like Naughty Dog have proven capable of giving characters a consequential sense of weight without making it a challenge to navigate around a table or requiring you to hold down buttons to move at acceptable speeds. Coupled with middling gunplay feedback and a few too many stealth segments, the chunky act of playing Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t feel good so much as it feels, eventually at least, tolerable. Scaife

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Top 10 Radiohead Music Videos

To celebrate Radiohead’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we take a look back at the group’s best and most innovative music videos.

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Top 10 Radiohead Music Videos
Photo: Alex Lake/Nasty Little Man

Twenty-five years ago, the world was introduced to Radiohead by way of their debut single, “Creep.” Thom Yorke and company may have soured to their very first modern rock hit, but as we said in our list of the Best Singles of the 1990s, for which the song ranked at #37, “Creep” is rivaled only by “Every Breath You Take” as the ultimate kind-of-obsessive/kind-of-romantic crush anthem, with guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s perfectly timed blasts of electricity turning it from slightly creepy to threatening. The track peaked on the Billboard pop chart in September of 1993, a full year after its initial release, and Radiohead would go on to become one of the most influential bands in rock history. To celebrate the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we take a look back at their best and most innovative music videos.

Editors’ Note: This article was originally published on July 24, 2013.

10. “Burn the Witch” (Dir: David Mould). “Stand in the shadows/To the gallows/This is a round-up,” Thom Yorke cautions at the start of “Burn the Witch,” with all the paranoia and politically shaded intrigue we’ve come to expect from the Radiohead frontman. Directed by Chris Hopewell, the music video for the track depicts a government official sent to inspect the strange goings-on in a small village, where he’s burned alive in a giant wooden statue in a scene reminiscent of the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man. The clip features stop-motion animation in the style of the 1960s-era U.K. children’s show Trumpton. Sal Cinquemani

9. “Paranoid Android” (Dir: Magnus Carlsson). Radiohead commissioned Swedish animator Magnus Carlsson for this bizarre and somewhat graphic video, which sees the titular protagonist of Carlsson’s series Robin encountering various unsavory or unearthly characters, including a prostitute in a tree, a deranged businessman, and an angel flying a helicopter. Cinquemani

8. “House of Cards” (Dir: James Frost). When the “House of Cards” video came out, it struck me as a tech geek’s gimmick, but in retrospect, its motion-capture technique is used for deeply human ends. First we see two faces in close-up, their physicality rendered as blue-ish data points. Then, indistinct bodies at a party and a whole suburban landscape being wiped away in Etch-A-Sketch fashion. It’s a kind of digitally envisioned nightmare: Every pixel of everything we know, instantly erased. Paul Rice

7. “No Surprises” (Dir: Grant Lee). Lo-fi simplicity tends to work best for Radiohead’s live-action videos. In “No Surprises,” we get to watch Thom Yorke gasp for breath as a water chamber fills and releases around his head. It’s a sly sadomasochistic dream that could be his, or that of plenty of Radiohead haters everywhere. Rice

6. “Daydreaming” (Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson). In this video for 2016’s “Daydreaming,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s camera follows Thom Yorke through numerous locales, from hotel hallways to laundromats. The images, lucid and confrontational, exude an almost gestural quality as they cut from interior and exterior spaces, with Yorke waltzing in a sleep-like torpor toward a hole—or spacious studio igloo?—somewhere on a snow-capped mountain. The world here appears at once real and imagined, and by the time the fire within the hole lights Yorke’s face and the song grinds to a halt, Anderson dramatically reaffirms most of our beliefs about Radiohead’s music as, above all else, the prettiest soundtrack in the world to one man’s devotion to his own alienation. Ed Gonzalez

5. “Just” (Dir: Jamie Thraves). There’s a Kafkaesque absurdity to the simple concept of “Just” that gets and stays under the skin. A man lies down in the middle of a monochromatic city sidewalk. People trip on him and ask how he is and why he’s there. Finally, he tells the crowd (though we never know, since the subtitles cut out), and they all lie with him, presumably in conjoined doom. Rice

4. “Knives Out” (Dir: Michel Gondry). Thematically evocative of the director’s 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the elaborate, seemingly single-take “Knives Out” juxtaposes emotional and physical hardship via Michel Gondry’s signature surreal imagery, including singer Thom Yorke’s head replaced by a giant heart in which he stores a Polaroid photograph of his fiancée, whose critical condition he may very well have been responsible for. Cinquemani

3. “Pyramid Song” (Dir: Shynola). Thom Yorke and company have long been champions of animation, and “Pyramid Song” is their best, most heartfelt work in the form. A man—or a thing (the figure could be human or beast)—dives into a lost civilization, wading through bones to a home where he watches TV. CG allows for meticulous detail, but the gorgeous design by artist collective Shynola is purposely murky, full of unknown layers, and like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, released the same year, it suggests a ruined past we can never get back. Rice

2. “Fake Plastic Trees” (Dir: Jake Scott). Jake Scott, noted music video director and son of Sir Ridley, has said that his striking clip for Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees,” filmed in an aircraft hangar in Van Nuys, California, is an allegory on death and reincarnation. His claim is borne out by images of colorful characters, old and young, strolling the aisles of a neon-lit supermarket, being watched on surveillance cameras, and eventually carted off to a heavenly looking “exit.” Cinquemani

1. “Karma Police” (Dir: Jonathan Glazer). Director Jonathan Glazer claims that this creepy revenge clip, in which a car slowly follows a man running down a desolate road only to have the tables turned thanks to a chance gasoline leak, was inspired by a bad dream. His remarkable use of point of view implicates the spectator in the video’s action, but it’s the spooky way with which he fashions a Möbius strip from karmic irony that makes “Karma Police” Radiohead’s finest contribution to the music-video medium. Cinquemani

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