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Thom Yorke – "Hearing Damage"

October 15, 2009
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Thom Yorke of Radiohead.

It has been a busy year for Thom Yorke of Radiohead. The band has released two new singles within the past three months: “Harry Patch (In Memory Of)” and “These Are My Twisted Words.” You’ll hear neither on the radio. Yorke has also released two solo singles of his own, a cover of Mark Mulcahy’s “All for the Best” and a double A-side 12-inch of the songs “Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses” and “The Hollowed Earth.” In addition to this, he’s started an as of yet unnamed new band with Flea, Nigel Godrich, and others.

You’ll hear a lot of varying opinions on said activity if you ask a bunch of Radiohead fans. Opinions are pretty divided, but the general consensus seems to be that the new tracks are nifty, even pretty good, but a bit of a disappointment. I personally agree, for the most part. In particular, “Harry Patch,” as pretty as it is, sounds streamlined, and so do “Twisted Words” and the Yorke singles, even considering their experimentation. To me, “All for the Best” is the one that sticks out as the best, a glowing electronic pop piece. With all this said, I’ve been playing all of these tracks fairly often recently, so my disappointment is obviously rather minimal.

The latest bit of Thom Yorke related news involves one of the stranger releases of this year, the indie/alternative rock star-studded “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” soundtrack, which contains the work of Grizzly Bear and Beach House’s Victoria LeGrand, Bon Iver and St. Vincent, Death Cab for Cutie, The Killers, Muse and Thom Yorke himself, among others. Someone involved with the Twilight Saga clearly had a large wad of cash to blow and happened to decide that this soundtrack merited it.

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Mmm, mmm, kiss me Edward Cullen, kiss me lest I stain my petticoat with mine beads of anticipatory perspiration.

As you can expect from a cast like that, the disc is scattered in quality. It is split pretty much half and half between (and this is just one man’s opinion here) lame alternative-lite shit and moody, thoughtful pieces. Yorke leads the latter pack with his new song “Hearing Damage.”

As I write this, I’ve listened to the song maybe around ten times, and it is really beginning to bother me. I’m imagining Mr. Yorke would either take this as a bit of a put-down or a complement, and I should hope the latter. A lot of Radiohead’s greatest work has been willfully difficult and experimental, and every one of their albums within the past nine years have their artfully disturbing moments. Thom Yorke took the band’s electronic paranoia to another level with his excellent 2006 solo album The Eraser. Not many other artists have the ability to reliably get under a listener’s skin with their music.

“Hearing Damage” wouldn’t sound out of place on The Eraser, and for that reason complaints of Yorke not progressing his style beyond dark electronic music may be legitimate, but this also means that Yorke has really started to cement his own style as a solo artist, and we can tell that this is a Thom Yorke track immediately upon hearing it. The song still has it’s own thing going, though. It taps into something primal, and we can point to the pulsing, irregular rhythm for part of the explanation.

The piece seems to build and build and not climax, and it’s sonic identity is built around a shuddering, bassy synth. It is heard throughout the track, dipping in and out and warping as the song draws to a close, and is also mirrored by higher pitched synths throughout. In opposition to this inventiveness is that this track is slickly produced, as expected for a song on the soundtrack of a major motion picture. How complex and disturbing the song is contrasts with its immediacy.

As far as Yorke’s vocals and lyrics go, we are reminded here why he is still one of the best vocalists around. As we have heard on Radiohead albums as well as The Eraser, a little bit of echo goes a long way for Yorke, and raises his emotional momentum a hell of a lot. His singing here is hushed, also a lot like it was on the majority of songs on The Eraser.

The lyrics are, as expected, the heart of the song, and they solidify “Hearing Damage” as a classic cut. “You can do no wrong / in my eyes, in my eyes” may sound like sexy vampire type shit, but it’s got the typical Yorke sleeper effect, and when you really think about it, it’s pretty creepy. He switches back and forth between first and second person point of view here, and there is no short supply of affecting material. Even more harrowing: “A drunken salesman / your hearing damage / your mind is restless / they say you’re getting better, but you don’t feel any better.”

A slithering earworm, “Hearing Damage” crawls into your consciousness, stays there, and haunts you, like tinnitus. It’s no surprise that it is the odd duck out on this soundtrack, and nothing else sounds half as creative. Granted, its competition is lukewarm and straightforward, but the curiosity of how the song might be used in New Moon almost makes me feel like I could tolerate two hours of vampire smut to know. Well, not really. But it’s further proof that Thom Yorke still has the capacity to make great music in 2009, and paired with some of the other good compositions here, makes the soundtrack worth the price of admission.

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Admit it guys, pretty much the story of our lives for the past two years.

NOTICE: As you can see, all of the Radio Cure playlist posts have been deleted. Don’t worry, you can still view them on the “Radio Playlists” page, now accessible from the sidebar. I did this to open up space on the front page for more interesting posts, as the front page was getting cluttered with playlists that I post weekly and didn’t have a whole hell of a lot of content.

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