Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Philip Selway - Weatherhouse - Album Review [24th September 2014]

[2014.09.24] Tom Hollingworth, for NE:MM Online Magazine.

At the end of July, Radiohead’s exceptionally creative rhythm-maker Philip Selway released a new song from his up-coming second solo LP release; the anthemic Coming Up For Air. As our anticipation for this record grew, all of a sudden another of Radiohead’s Republic surprised us, releasing their own second solo LP this September, ahead of Selway’s, but in spite of this timing, these diverse projects will not steal attention from one another, for they both serve as special and unique offerings to the Autumn of 2014.

Selway’s debut in 2010, Familial, was a modest acoustic-guitar driven record, with melodies and juxtaposing chordal changes that set the listener’s ears on a path to fill-in the possibilities for what fuller arrangements might sound like. Four years later, and our composer’s ambition for the orchestration and sonic landscape encompassing each of his new recordings is much greater.

Weatherhouse is an apt title for this album, suggestive, amongst other things, of the more luscious textures and seasonal atmospheres dressing these new tracks. Along with realising each composition through its melody and arrangement, a track-to-track focus on the space and room each occupies gives a further level of distinction to the experience this time around. The song Let It Go marries its theme of tormented sleep with a constant and distant rattling bell. Other parts rise in a mist around the vocal melody like the waves of thought keeping our subject awake. In Don’t Go Now, the acoustic guitar sits dry and solid at the front of the mix, whilst vocals and strings are rapped in thicker air. As lyrics are disclaimed, the textual disparity metaphors the distance between the lover in the distance and the loved in the foreground.

This further solo release also clarifies the ideas that Selway brings to and enforces in Radiohead’s communal songwriting. The descending vocal melody line along with the lyrics in Ghosts strongly reignites memories of Exit Music For A Film. The cyclic eternity of the drum pattern in Around Again speaks to the energy and paranoia of his band’s Hail To The Thief era, employed here for his more existential study.

From his long-time involvement performing music, and the accolades he has received for his contributions, the effects Selway employs on the production of his vocals in these recordings would appear a stylistic choice rather than one used to cover a lack of confidence in his abilities. In Coming Up For Air a smooth fuzz veils his natural voice, and often, on the songs that follow, reverb heavily soaks his serenades. The vocals are just another part of the orchestra in these arrangements, and the use of these effects to frame them more intrinsically in the complete sound helps remove any possible perceptions of a vocalist leading the march. The song is always the thing, not the performer.

Weatherhouse is a collection of some beautiful melodies, supported tastefully with intricate arrangements. With a history of being involved with creating music that has re-evaluated the landscape to which it was born, audience expectations for what Selway releases are unfairly extreme. Embracing Weatherhouse with the hope of unheard timbres, or unusual postmodern concepts, would be to misdirect the focus from what is to be enjoyed from this characterful album. These songs are united by their gentle centres and their arms outstretched to the listener. His voice, though wide-ranging in pitch, is often delivered calmly and softly, welcoming the listener rather than waving for their attention. Thematically the songs are held together through their exploration of the harder sides of the relationship between a You and an I.

Being a part of an incredible ensemble does not necessarily dictate that, operating separately, you can offer a rounded voice and work of value. In Philip Selway’s case, however, a class shines from his solo music that simultaneously convinces the listener of his intrinsic relevance to what Radiohead make, and also to his bravery as a musician, who, in spite of his achievements and commitment with that collective, takes time to stand apart from them, to explore his creativity elsewhere.

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