Jonny Greenwood


(Capitol; 2003)

By Peter Hepburn | 15 December 2007

At some point the nukes will almost certainly fly. Pakistan and India remain at each others throats, North Korea will strike out at anything with a foreign policy, and the United States just has too many sitting around not to use them. So the apocalypse is at hand; the good news is the following nuclear winter has found itself a soundtrack, and it comes from none other than Jonny Greenwood.

Greenwood is best known as the lead guitarist/tech nerd for Radiohead and has been responsible for some of the more memorable singles from the group. Years ago there was a song by the name of "Creep" with a guitar line so brutal that it could not be ignored. Some years later, "Just," with its brilliant guitar solo, further showcased the potential of the group. Then of course there was "Paranoid Android," which is just fucking sick (I can't really come up with any other way to accurately describe it).

After the glory of OK Computer Greenwood set the guitar aside in favor of a laptop, ondes martenot and more effects pedals than are legal outside of Great Britain. The result was nothing short of breathtaking;. Kid A, though occasionally criticized as hack work and unoriginal, pushed the boundaries of rock and Greenwood's deep atmospherics had as much to do with it as Thom Yorke's wounded howl.

Bodysong, the soundtrack to the film of the same name, best serves as a companion piece to the Kid A/Amnesiac recordings, showing the depth of Greenwood's expertise, the vastness of his creativity, and the potential for his ventures into electronic music. It certainly doesn't live up to the emotional highs and grandiosity of Kid A, but it shows how much of an effect Greenwood had on those recordings and serves as a good beginning point for what is bound to be an impressive solo career.

The album opens with "Moon Trills," which begins with a scream and a string section and then evolves into the evil cousin of "Pyramid Song" (from Radiohead's Amnesiac). The slow dirge on piano is wrapped in layers of distortion and Greenwood continues to toy with string sections (something he specifically set out to work on with OK Computer). The tracks melt into each other, but are able to sound unique and distinct. "Trench" uses a violin to simulate rusted metal and a chopped vocal sample plays over a programmed drum beat. "Iron Swallow" uses the same violin played properly with minimal atmospherics. "Convergence" uses seemingly every instrument available to produce a drum track with a series of clever, intertwining rhythms.

There is great influence from the world of jazz on the album, especially the second half. "Splitter" really does feel like bop played by zombies; the drumming is manic and the trumpet piece impressive, but the atmosphere adds a sinister edge. On "24 Hour Charleston," Greenwood finally breaks out the guitar, though it is admittedly a deeply subdued, intricate guitar line rather than one of Greenwood's mind-bending solos. "Milky Drops from Heaven" is another jazz piece, but rather than get into a groove Greenwood distorts the music to incoherence and then sporadically brings the bass line and horn section back in. The album closes with "Tehellet," a song that comprimsed alf of Amnesiac b-side "Trans-Atlantic Drawl." Unlike the Radiohead version, however, Greenwood uses a cello to introduce the song and then perfectly builds with a string section.

There was little doubt that Radiohead's two geniuses, Yorke and Greenwood, would pursue solo careers. Yorke has worked on a number of side projects, but it seems fitting that Greenwood, arguably the most musically radical member of the group, would be the first to complete a proper solo project. On Bodysong he seems to be more interested in exploring the possibilities of the music he has been promoting for Radiohead and escape his history as a guitar hero. The atmosphere of the album is impressive, and really does strike me as resembling post-apocalyptic rock; I have one friend who had to stop listening to this when it began giving her roommate nightmares. For those of us who loved the paranoia and buried emotion of Kid A (something of a nightmare album itself), Bodysong is worthwhile listening.