Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Radiohead's drummer goes solo

Phil Selway's "Familial" (2010)
For his first solo effort, “Familial,” Radiohead drummer Phil Selway explores himself as a singer and songwriter, creating a warm and soothing record.

This isn’t his first venture away from Radiohead. Selway had partaken in Neil Finn’s all-star concerts, “7 Worlds Collide,” recording an album titled “The Sun Came Out.”

While working on the project, Selway established some creative relationships with multi-instrumentalist and singer Lisa Germano, bassist Sebastian Steinberg, and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche who all contribute on the record.

As the drummer of Radiohead, Selway has always demonstrated restraint and patience, and the songs on “Familial” are much understated.

Similar in vein, the music is effective and Selway indulges in themes of parenthood, relationships and middle-age.

He devotes “The Ties that Bind Us” to his son, singing, “I want to show you another way, I want to shield you from my mistakes” and on “Broken Promises,” he addresses the loss of his mother.

The songs are mostly restricted to acoustic guitars and bare instrumentations, and the lyrics are far less abstract than anything Thom Yorke ever wrote, providing relatable and universal imagery.

Selway’s vocals are also very tender and delicate, and his natural singing serves well to the haunting music.

“A Simple Life” is the most romantic song on the album, with Selway dreaming of a runaway relationship, “we’ll leave and disappear into the night, we’ll turn out the lights, we just want a simple life.”

The best song might be the introduction, “By Some Miracle,” a direct confession of his inner demons, “there’s a black dog in my basement, he is barking out my name.”

There is a Radiohead song called “Electioneering” off the classic album “OK Computer,” where Selway, on a rare occasion, goes berserk on the drums, perhaps releasing that “black dog” he is talking about.

While “Familial” is successful in its purpose, a Radiohead fan might wonder what Selway could have written in his younger years, and at 43-years-old, with a wife and three children, he only examines middle-aged themes.

“Familial” does not break any new ground, but it is a refined and touching release, easy enough for a long drive and pleasant enough for a quiet night at home.

-James Vu

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