“Multilayered tinklings and murmurings”.
“A subliminally shimmering aura”.
“A spiral of tension, cryptically portraying a society ignoring its own witch hunts as a clattery, insistent string arrangement ratchets up the dissonance and agitation”.
Three sentences from one review of Radiohead’s new album – a release that, at times, seems less a suite of music and more a herald of the End of Days, a soundtrack to the collapse of 21st century consumer society.
But what if Radiohead’s post-millenial tension is not your thing? Then you might turn to James Blake, another artist who released an album last week. Worth a listen, you ask?
“The melancholic funk of ‘I Hope My Life (1-800 Mix)’ or the dive bomb synth swoops of ‘Radio Silence’ show Blake’s ability to orchestrate moments that mimic the stark romantic bombast of a Caspar David Friedrich painting,” says Pitchfork.
The Portland, Oregon, band don’t do sweeping existential soundscapes – creeping, trailer park existentialism is more their style; less how did we end up here, than how did I end up here (and why’s my wallet empty, and my hand still bleeding)?
Bandleader Willy Vlautin doesn’t have Dylan’s songbook or Springsteen’s bombast. Nor can he offer the song-for-song batting average of John Prine or the gut-wrought polemics of Steve Earle.
But what he does offer is fear – the terror felt by people at the end of the line or crashing headlong toward it – tempered by small moments of release.
Like Daydreaming, the Richmond Fontaine song has, at its root, a broken relationship; but whereas Thom Yorke goes for the too-clever option of singing the phrase ‘half my life’ backwards, Vlautin plays it straight.
“I called a girl I used to know
A nurse from Saint Mary’s
We had a place on 7th street
But I Ieft her in a rough way
Her dad said she got married
Was living in Stockton with a baby
He said he couldn’t remember me –
But I knew he was lying
The night seemed never ending…”
Needless to say, the song doesn’t end well for Vlautin’s drifter. But his short, desperate story contains more humanity than a ‘tense, cryptic portrayal of a society ignoring its own witchhunts’.
Perhaps that’s because – as Thom Yorke once put it – all of us are “accidents waiting, waiting to happen”.