Thom Yorke – Spitting Feathers (2006): On Second Thought

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Thom Yorke needs little introduction: As lead singer of Radiohead, he and his band have garnered many fans around the world. His solo Spitting Feathers EP was released in Japan in 2006 and I was a little wary, I admit, due to some fairly mediocre reviews about the release – but on listening I would disagree. This is good music, period.

Spitting Feathers has the same three tracks as the expanded “Harrowdown Hill” single, with additional songs “A Rat’s Nest” and “Iluvya.” The EP opens with its title track, an upbeat, electronically enhanced track with some great beats and Thom’s signature little-boy-lost vocal style – complete with sharp intakes of breath, which actually add to the emotive quality of the lyrics.

The lyric tells us that “you will be dispensed with when you become inconvenient,” taking the listener to “Harrowdown Hill” for a contemplative journey backed by some percussive links and keyboard lines. The music here serves as background to Thom Yorke’s vocals, which are clear and quite beautiful. “I can’t take the pressure, no one cares if you live or die,” he adds. Oh dear, but he is coming home. A listenable and enjoyable track with a lovely pause in the third section, followed by a trance-like repetitive section about a slippery slope and slipping in and out of consciousness. Quirky, and with great beats.

The second track is an extended version of “Harrowdown Hill,” which follows the same lines, apart from the addition of a longer introduction and two rather interesting middle sections where the vocals and keys warp and weave their way into the esoteric. The trance-like rhythms are then re-established, and the song continues as before.

“Analyse” is an interesting song with an interesting piano line under the vocals. Again, Thom’s voice is served well by the supportive and mesmerizing rhythm and keys.

“Rat’s Nest” begins with esoteric electronics and is underpinned from the second section by a rhythmic house-beat drive. There are depths here and it has a grinding electronically enhanced note almost all the way through which suits the lyrics perfectly. The off-beat and off-kilter enhancements feel over the top, but in a strange way these actually make “Rat’s Nest” feel darker without the need for any deep rhythmic pounding which many artists would use here. Towards the end, a regular pulse emerges and can be heard – and felt.

“Iluvya” is short, sharp and sweet, with entrancing rhythms and irregular, warped and strained vocals. It has the sense of being heard through some kind of tissue paper, which was probably the intent, but the best part of the track is the ickery-trickery going on in the rhythms. Entrancing in its way and very uplifting.

“Drunkk Machine” is deep, dark and revels in its inner-looking melancholia. Very heavily produced as it is nonetheless, Thom Yorke’s drunken-sounding vocal speak of swiveling heads, spitting feathers, talking in tongues and splitting hairs, contrasting with the hard-driving and regular beats. The changes in the track are largely brought about by tinkering with the vocal lines and doubling over. The descent into mania and the rise to the scream sends shivers down your spine. Put “Drunkk Machine” on loud and you can’t sit still. By the end of the track, the rhythms have you hooked.

“Jetstream” is a journey in electronic sounds, spins, buzzes and vocal tweaks. Thom here uses his vocals differently and delivers the narrative in a rapid, quick fire stream of delivery. Timing is spot on, the underpinning rhythms spell binding.

The overall feel of the Spitting Feathers EP is that it is a part of a journey for Thom Yorke, but not one which is complete. There are many rhythms, and many vocal styles, even if the listener’s hopes for something new, original and unheard are somewhat dashed. Nonetheless, Spitting Feathers makes for a decent listening and a smart addition to your playlist – especially if you have good equipment to pick up all the little undercuts added and the tiny noises provided by the intricate electronic wizardry. Thom Yorke’s vocals are compelling and the lyrics are worth listening for. A good effort, if not an amazing one.


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