Philip Selway of Radiohead is arguably the most influential drummer of the last 15 years, being the first to popularize the transition of computer-generated beats to a drum set. Selway has played on the album that revolutionized modern guitar rock (1997's "OK Computer"), as well as the most influential electronica album of all time (2000's "Kid A"). And now, with the help of musicians from Wilco and Soul Coughing, has released his first solo album, "Familial."
Even the most devoted of Radiohead fans have rarely heard Selway's vocals. Backed by an acoustic guitar, a string section, and in a few cases horns or soft percussion, Selway reveals his surprisingly pleasant voice, which will remind Radiohead fans somewhat of Thom Yorke, the group's prolific lead singer. Combining the expected macabre, reflective lyrics with a George Harrison-style guitar part (Selway has been called Radiohead's Harrison because of his love for softer, more introspective songs), Selway has created a perfect balance between the classic Radiohead sound and his own musicianship, creating a sound new to alternative fans.
"Familial" opens with "By Some Miracle," which features the signature Radiohead melancholy and relatively unpredictable instrumentals. "A Simple Life" is the usual ballad about rejecting celebrity status.
There is one truly striking feature about the album. Coming from a drummer who revolutionized modern percussion, "Familial" lacks a single track with a prominent percussion part. "The Ties That Bind Us" features the heaviest drum part (light quarter notes on a cymbal and a tambourine). To prevent "Familial" from sounding like 11 repetitive personal reflections, Selway creatively inserts guitar parts that can seemingly sing the lyrics themselves and the use of an upright bass to provide a rhythm section ("Patron Saint"). "Don't Look Down" displays his immaculate falsetto.
While on the surface, "Familial" may sound like nothing more than a side project from a prolific band, Philip Selway has established himself as Philip Selway, not just the drummer in Radiohead. This solo album gives a face and a personality to a brilliant musician who has lived in the shadow of Thom Yorke for nearly two decades. Selway has shown that he possesses a great deal of musical versatility with his carefully constructed guitar parts and incredible vocal range, which are all the more impressive given his extensive resume as a drummer.
For new listeners, "Familial" is a very good acoustic album, while Radiohead fans will find this is the closest anything has sounded to "OK Computer," the band's most critically acclaimed, in more than a decade. The album's final track sadly uses the line, "This could be the last chance," frequently and ends with Selway singing, "Forever's a long time," implying that this could be the last opportunity we will have to experience Selway's brilliant songwriting abilities.
Alex Eaton is a junior at Clarence High School.