It’s been eight years since Bob Dylan last released new music, in the form of 2012's well-recieved Tempest. That streak ended tonight, when Dylan surprise-released a new, 17-minute track on his official YouTube account, suggesting that the sprawling “Murder Most Foul” might be of interest to his fans in our current, highly worrying times. Loosely constructed around the death of John F. Kennedy, it’s a meandering journey through the American subconscious that spans something like the last 60-odd years—which might explain why Dylan, amidst the numerous references to magic bullets and a party behind the grassy knoll, drops in a reference to A Nightmare On Elm Street, too.
Musically sparse, it’s a legitimately daunting song, as Dylan gently sings apocalyptic lyrics over a bed of strings and pianos that occasionally rise into soft crescendos, then recede. Recorded at some unspecified “a while back,” the song wanders its way through American music and atrocities in equal measure—including a namecheck of Billy Joel’s “Only The Good Die Young.” It’s the kind of song you could imagine playing over the closing montage of some great, ambitious TV show—or maybe even just the country itself, with just enough hope in Dylan’s voice to keep things from being unrelentingly bleak. The end result is simultaneously hypnotic, soothing, and little bit dire. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that the Nobel Prize-winner’s gift for crafting lyrics that tug relentlessly at the corners of your brain is still pretty firmly intact.