Album: Jonny Greenwood

Bodysong, Parlophone

Andy Gill
Saturday 28 September 2013 04:19

The first solo project by any of the members of Radiohead takes the form of the soundtrack to a forthcoming film by Simon Pummell, which according to the press release offers "a panoramic view of the experience of being human, from birth to death". Which, you'd imagine, gives Jonny Greenwood a fair amount of leeway - particularly since the film, compiled from images spanning the last century, is completely free of dialogue.

Thankfully, Greenwood has grasped the opportunity with both hands, indulging his experimental side in a series of instrumental vignettes drawing inspiration from various intriguing corners of the avant-garde. The closest the album comes to Radiohead - even allowing for the expanded palette of styles introduced on Kid A and Amnesiac - is the opener "Moon Trills", whose sombre piano chords beneath a shimmer of strings recalls "Everything in Its Right Place". From there on, any such anchorages are left well behind as Greenwood delves into musique concrete (the collaged noises, treated snatches of speech and backward beats of "Trench"), minimalism (the percussion tracks of "Convergence", slipping in and out of synch in the manner of Steve Reich's "Drumming"), and several strains of modern jazz and chamber music.

Some are impossible to pigeonhole that easily, such as "Peartree", which features tiny high-register details of glockenspiel over horror-movie organ and weeping cello; or the delightful "Clockwork Tin Soldiers", which opens with a cascade of glassy-toned tuned percussion, before slipping into a shambling shuffle/drone section reminiscent of Robert Wyatt's signature mode. Perhaps the most striking thing about the album, given Greenwood's role in Radiohead, is the absence not just of fiery guitar solos but virtually of any guitar parts at all, save for a few vibrato'd chords in the brief "Moon Mall" and a subdued snatch of acoustic bottleneck in "24 Hour Charleston", the latter further obscured by an ants' nest of spiky electronic noise. Instead, he's busied himself more with loops, keyboards and percussion programmes, and with arranging the bleak, Arvo Part-ish string passages that colour several tracks, including the finale "Tehellet".

The most satisfying pieces here, however, are "Splitter" and "Milky Drops from Heaven", on which a jazz quartet provide feverish accompaniment: the latter, switching between Sun Ra-style passages of rumbling drums streaked with horn contrails, and subdued passages of a more Milesian cast, is particularly impressive. It's probably not what Radiohead fans are expecting from the closest the band has to an axe hero, but Bodysong is nevertheless an absorbing experience - and on reflection, perhaps not all that much further out than the band have journeyed in their more outré moments.

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