Thom Yorke – Spitting Feathers EP

Thom Yorke
Spitting Feathers EP

Shakespeare wrote that brevity is the soul of wit. Perhaps Thom Yorke should have taken heed of those words in 2006. Yorke’s first solo disc, The Eraser, was released in July; while there was much fanfare, the disc fell flat on with some of listeners (most of whom seemed to unfairly expect the musical ‘rapture’ to come from the nine-song collection). References were, however, made to The Eraser being the equivalent of ‘Kid B’ due to its skeletal electronic structure and poignant, pointed lyrics.

The ‘Kid B’ comparisons didn’t seem relevant, however, because Kid A caused a minor furor for being slightly revolutionary in that it was a radical departure from Radiohead’s OK Computer (though it did seem to be a logical, though somewhat radical progression). After following Kid A through Amnesiac to Hail to the Thief (and adding in Jonny Greenwood’s ethereal Bodysong soundtrack along the way), it doesn’t seem unexpected at all for Yorke to be releasing collections of so-called ‘boops and bleeps.’ The intent of Kid A was to skew the musical landscape for so-called rock bands; the reasoning behind The Eraser was merely to shore up the template for that sort of thing – a far less grandiose undertaking, to say the least.

The Eraser had fine moments, but even at a mere nine songs and 41 minutes, it felt overblown somehow. Taken in brief doses, The Eraser had a few capsules of fine tuneage; as a whole, it suffered from too much sprawl to weigh in as much more than fine background music.

Yorke turns this problem around with the five-song, twenty minute Spitting Feathers EP (Japanese release only, unfortunately), which is far more worthy of the ‘Kid B’ mantle in a much more flattering way. “Drunkk Machine” compiles multiple electronic ebbs and swells and layers them over a staggered pair of simultaneous rhythms that drop in and out of the track. Yorke’s sobering vocals float down in another patchwork audio synch; when his voice echoes out, “I’ve got a bad feeling,” it feels like a declaration wrought from heaven itself, even if it is being shared by a feeble, meek angel. The track’s breakdown sticks out like the soundtrack to a metalhead’s LSD freakout, with Yorke’s caterwaul howling morphs into something resembling Robert Plant through the surrounding electronic mayhem. Perhaps there’s an anti-Bush sentiment in there as well, lyrically … “The Drunkk Machine / Spitting nonsense … Talking in tongues … Splitting hairs / Don’t listen … The Drunkk Machine spits / Who made it in charge?”

“A Rat’s Nest” is best described as a whirling dervish, as synth noodles audibly encircle Yorke’s pained croakings, whipping around his voice as if trying to lift his words to a different plane of musical existence. “Jetstream” is admittedly a curiosity more than anything, with Yorke spitting frantic, high-pitched wails about “a fucking rubber man” bouncing atop an artsy white-boy’s idea of breakbeats.

The gem, however, flies in the face of the issue that The Eraser suffered from most, as York stretches that album’s “Harrowdown Hill” into an intense seven-minute epic that makes the song far more powerful than the original inclination. The sparse synth swells and more sparse beat allow Yorke’s sharp, minimalist guitars and invasive vocals to cut through listeners. The mood of the track fits the subject matter (the suspicious death of Dr. David Kelly, a former employee of the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence who appeared to have been ‘erased’ through a disguised suicide for scapegoat clauses), and Yorke’s pained warbling of passages such as, “Don’t ask me, ask the ministry” and “Did I fall, or was I pushed, and where’s the blood?” After the blast of intensity, the light, distorted vocal techno-dub fare of “Iluvya” ends the album on a distorted, more resolved note.

Although one of the tracks here is merely an extended edit of a previous song, the whole of Spitting Feathers represents the sort of material the music world seems to expect from Yorke on an everyday basis in this day and age. This collection of disjointed, syncopated electronic madness is five songs of creative, understated art-pop genius evident to those who are looking to find it. This stuff will most likely go over the heads and around the bend from a large amount of the general public, but it’s obvious these days that Yorke’s making his music for the people looking specifically for it. In that respect, Spitting Feathers is a smash hit, indeed.