Thom Yorke

The Eraser

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The Eraser, Thom Yorke's first album away from Radiohead, is intensely focused and steady. It doesn't have the dynamics -- the shifts of mood, tempo, volume -- held by any Radiohead album, and it's predominantly electronic, so it's bound to rankle many of the fans who thought Kid A was too unhinged from rock & roll. It's definitely not the kind of album you put on to get an instant shot of energy, and at the same time, it doesn't contain anything as sullen as "How to Disappear Completely." Since it is so balanced, it might initially seem unwavering, but the details that differentiate the songs become increasingly apparent with each successive listen. Despite a reliance on machine beats and synthetic textures, Yorke's untouched, upfront vocals and relatively straightforward lyrics should be enough to bring back some of the detractors; he would have no trouble taking these songs on the road with a piano and an acoustic guitar. "Black Swan," the standout, comes across as a less guitar-heavy and more subdued version of Amnesiac's "I Might Be Wrong." Peek beneath the surface and you'll see that there's a lot more seething involved: "You have tried your best to please everyone/But it just isn't happening/No, it just isn't happening/And it's f*cked up, f*cked up." The opener, the title track, asks the album's first set of probing questions, including "Are you only being nice because you want something?" Along with the thoroughly sweet "Atoms for Peace," it vies for the album's prettiest-sounding five minutes, elevating into a chorus of hovering sighs as Yorke projects lightly with a matter-of-fact tone, "The more I try to erase you, the more, the more, the more that you appear." On the explicitly political end is "Harrowdown Hill," anchored by a snapping bass riff and percussive accents that skitter and slide back and forth between the left and right channels. Yorke defeatedly states, "You will be dispensed with when you become inconvenient," and asks "Did I fall or was I pushed?" referring to Dr. David Kelly, a whistle-blowing U.N. weapons inspector whose death -- which took place following a sequence of events that led to a testimonial before a parliamentary committee -- was ruled a suicide. It's no shock that the album entails some heavy subject matter and sounds as close to a version of Radiohead minus four of its members as one can imagine. What distinguishes The Eraser from the Radiohead albums, beyond the aspects mentioned above, is its ability to function in the background or as light listening without the requirement of deep concentration. The constant stream of soft, intricately layered sounds, while not without a great deal of tension in most spots, can be very comforting. Yorke's assertion that the album isn't truly a solo release is accurate. Producer Nigel Godrich, whose relationship with Radiohead exceeds a decade, played a major role, contributing arrangements, "extra instruments," and enough influence to guide the album into its tight song-oriented structure. Without him, the well-executed album would've likely sounded a lot closer to the kind of stray-idea patchwork experiment that so many other long-boiling side projects resemble. And, to a somewhat lesser extent, Yorke needed his bandmates as well; some of the sounds were pulled and manipulated from a bank of the band's unused recordings.

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