Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Philip Selway - Familial (Bella Union)

Phil Selway has always been Radiohead’s real unsung hero. While undoubtedly their unusual consistently and uniquely questing output has got to be the result of a delicate chemistry of personalities, it’s typically Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood that gain the most attention within the wider world. Which is a bit of a shame really, as Selway’s way with percussion – by turns brawny and contemplative, and able to turn on a sixpence from restrained jazz brush to the euphoric blitz of post-rave electronica – is one of the band’s most reliable traits, and capable of lifting even their least pop-savvy moments to near-transcendence. At the same time though, it’s hard not to get the sense that he likes it that way; while Yorke’s solo material and political activism keeps him in the public eye, and Greenwood’s composer’s ear has seen him score films and take an active role within the BBC’s musical life, Selway has stayed quiet at the back, ticking away metronomically with minimal fanfare. So it’s good to see him step into the limelight for his debut album, even though initially its nature seems entirely opposite to much of his work in his day job.

Familial couldn’t possibly match its title more perfectly; it’s hushed, intimate and deeply considered. Throughout, Selway sounds almost unnervingly close, whispering sweet nothings through headphones as though speaking gently into a lover’s ear. It’s certainly a far cry from the stammering beats he’s made his band’s hallmark over the last few years, and better for it. His voice is a lovely thing, finding a tense balance between airy – leaving syllables trailing on for just a little too long – and earthbound, opener ‘By Some Miracle’ treading the fine line between the two to striking effect.

It swiftly becomes apparent that the best part of two decades as part of one of the most characteristic bands on the planet hasn’t simply been dropped; Radiohead’s subconscious influence (intentional or not) is all over Selway’s music. At times it’s the merest glimmer, as in the delicate Yorke-ish vocal harmony that sees the opening track to a fade. At other points it simply tumbles from the speakers – the gnarled acoustic guitar figure and shattered vocal samples of ‘Beyond Reason’ share the same sense of restless dynamism and forward propulsion that makes late-period Radiohead so totally compelling. Either way, it’s in no way a bad thing, and Familial sounds in no way derivative – in fact, what’s so impressive about it is how alone it’s capable of standing from the legacy that so fully infected Yorke’s solo turn on The Eraser. On the evidence of such a strong debut, Selway’s got bright and wonderfully contrary prospects regardless of where his band ends up.

Words : Rory Gibb

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