Release Date: 02.24.04
Record label: Capitol Records
Genre(s): Movies, Film Scores, Musicals, Etc.
Mad Guitar Scientist Goes Tastefully Berserk!
by: matt cibula
Jonny Greenwood always seemed like the strangest cat in Radiohead to me. Sure, Thom’s got his issues, but at least he gets to be out there, fronting the band; Greenwood seems always to be lurking around, messing with some weird old-school synth monstrosity, creating bizarre noises for the rest of the band to mess with, hair all hanging down like he’s got dark secrets he can’t tell us or we’ll explode or kill ourselves or summat. Yorkie gets a lot of heat for trying to turn the band away from Epic Rawkstuff, but I was always pretty convinced that Greenwood was involved in the experimental side of Radiohead.
So it didn’t really surprise me to realize that Bodysong, Greenwood’s soundtrack to a film by Simon Pummell, sounded very much like the last three Radiohead albums: elusive, fraught with electrotension, avant-jazz and blipster soundscapes bordering each other or hooking up, strange time signatures, the whole thing. There aren’t any vocals on Bodysong (at least not any that say anything), just shifting futuristic instrumental pieces that veer between sweet and threatening.
Greenwood is clearly a composer to be reckoned with, if he ever gets into it a bit more. [News flash: We just learned that he will be doing some composing for the BBC. So he took our advice before he even heard it. Sweet.] His pieces are complex but smooth, they ebb and flow just when you think they’re going to flow and ebb, and the musical knowledge database is very high. References to David Byrne and Tortoise and Aphex Twin and Steve Reich and Miles Davis abound, but not in an overtly pretentious way—Jonny’s just checking his people.
Some tracks are thumpy plodders (“Clockwork Tin Soldiers”), others are hardcore techno / hip-hop experiments with fractured rhythms (“Nudnik Headache”), and still others are just full-on freak-bop workouts (“Splitter”). But all of them share a mystery, an aesthetic, and therefore the whole thing hangs together. And in the moments where things take off thrillingly—the medley/song called “Bode Radio/Glass Light/Broken Hearts” is a good example, spooky string plunks that keep turning more and more romantic before exploding into a brilliant final chord—you think maybe there’s no more beautiful music being made right now.
But there are too many moments when you think things are going to go nuts but they fail to do so (the early sputtering “Trench,” the drone called “24 Hour Charleston”), or moments that just aren’t as clever as Greenwood thinks they are (“Convergence,” where two or three differently-timed themes coincide and collide and fall in and out of phase, a trick that’s been done since 1961 or so), so ultimately I have to hold a star back from him. Just to keep him working hard, just to keep him hungry. Mad scientists like him need challenges to keep them honest.20-Aug-2004 12:13 AM