Come For the Songs; Stay for The Production – An Introduction to Thom Yorke

With his new album Anima released earlier this year, it seems like the right time to do a quick retrospective on the Radiohead frontman’s enigmatic solo career.

Yorke’s solo material can be hard to approach, so to that end, I’ve put together a commented and curated compilation of 12 tracks covering his career as a solo artist to date. If you aways wanted to dive into the Radiohead frontman’s solo career but didn’t know where to start, this is for you!

Check out the full Spotify playlist below (or click here), and read on to learn more about the tracks.

1. The Eraser

I’m sure back in 2006 a lot of people were wondering what Thom Yorke would sound like as a solo artist. We’d had a bit of insight into this (for example, his collaboration with UNKLE in 1998), but the question remained unanswered until Yorke released his debut LP The Eraser with the typical lack of fanfare we’ve come to expect from him.

The production on Yorke’s first album is decidedly more minimal than later work, as evidenced here by the first and title track of the album. Static drum loops and repeated piano riffs form the basis here as Yorke warns “The more you try to erase me, the more that I appear”. One wonders whom he was warning.

2. Default

Although technically not a solo project, I like to consider Atoms for Peace as Yorke’s second solo album. The project was a result of touring the songs from his debut LP with the likes of Flea and Joey Waronker. A bunch of samples and loops recorded by this supergroup whilst on tour was taken back to the studio, and made into an album.

The leading single captures the vibe of the project in a radio-friendly format.

3. A Brain in a Bottle

Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes was Yorke’s second official solo album. What stands out on each listening of this LP are the advances Yorke and Godrich had made with their engineering skills. The layers of sounds reveal new subtleties with each listen, yet the album remains unknowable beneath its rich electronic textures.

A Brain in a Bottle is the only real single from this album, as the rest of the LP remains a challenging but rewarding listen best digested in one session.

4. Suspirium

After a respite following Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes and a new Radiohead album (A Moon Shaped Pool), Yorke took his hand to recording a soundtrack for horror film “Suspiria”, this time without the collaboration of producer Nigel Godrich.

The track Suspirium features Yorke singing over solo piano, embellished with flute. No loops or electronic trickery here, just a raw vulnerability.

5. Traffic

The lead single from his recent masterpiece Anima is classic Thom Yorke fare. I dare you to try and get this groove out of your head after a few listens.

6. … And The World Laughs With You

I don’t know when it happened, but at some point Yorke went from being a shy and awkward Oxford indie band member to being part of the L.A. musical glitterati. Here we hear him collaborating with Los Angeles DJ Flying Lotus, one of many electronic artists to feed their influence back into Yorke’s solo efforts.

7. The Axe

It’s hard to choose a standout track from Anima, but The Axe perfectly demonstrates the surreal dreamlike soundscapes Yorke was aiming for on this LP.

8. Beautiful People

The second collaboration on this playlist, Beautiful People appears on Mark Pritchard’s album Under the Sun where Yorke provides vocals to this majestic track.

9. FeelingPulledApartByHorses

Radiohead fans attending concerts after the Amnesiac era may recognise the underlying riff on this track. In a composition which ended up becoming the track Reckoner from In Rainbows, the original riff was detached from the main piece and lives on here as its own song, hence the co-writing credits with Jonny Greenwood.

10. Reverse Running

Another offering from Atoms For Peace. If I had to choose a personal favourite from Yorke’s solo career, this would be it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

11. Impossible Knots

You’re probably noticing a pattern in Yorke’s solo compositions by now: Start with a drum loop, perhaps one which is syncopated or discordant in some way. Then, add layers until the sound is enriched. Often the opening moments give you no clue as to where the music will take you, and each song leaves you guessing until you’ve reached the end.

“In my business, there is no room for mess” croons Yorke over a drum riff provided by Radiohead drummer Phil Selway. With Thom Yorke’s latest album, it feels like he really has found a tidy focus.

12. Unmade

From the Suspiria soundtrack, another beautiful piano piece to round of this playlist.

 


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