Something icy has touched Philip Selway. An opaque current of melancholy ran through his first solo effort, 2010’s Familial, but the almost too-precious folk melodies hung just out of the reach of darkness. On Weatherhouse, Selway’s sophomore record, he replaces his lightly strummed acoustic guitar and delicate harmonies with reverberating bass and vocals pitch-shifted into a darker register. The overall feel is no longer sepia-toned nostalgia and twinges of missed opportunity, but deep, fresh pain.
In 2009, reports that Radiohead were recording again had fans, critics, and industry wags quivering in anticipation (and fear). As speculation mounted, Selway announced that he would be releasing his first solo record. Many were surprised to find that Radiohead’s backbeat had a voice, both literally and figuratively. Thom Yorke had put outThe Eraser a few years prior and was gearing up his side project Atoms for Peace, but with the exception of Jonny Greenwood’s film-scoring work, the non-Yorke members of Radiohead had been largely silent during one of the band’s regular lulls. Fans looked to Selway’s release with tasseographic intensity, as if by sifting through the grinds, they might augur Radiohead’s future.
Under that spotlight, Selway released … a folk album. Soft-voiced and gentle, Familial was far more attuned to the melancholia of Nick Drake than Radiohead’s progressive rock. Most critics panned the release as unoriginal, while fans seemed to listen once, shrug, and move on. Within a year, The King of Limbs was released, further obscuring Selway’s solo effort.
Today, many of the same elements are again in play. Selway announced his follow-up some months ago, and Radiohead, who had stayed relatively quiet since King of Limbs, re-entered the studio. Even more puzzling, while Weatherhouse has had a release date for months, Thom Yorke just released a solo album without warning. With his second album, Selway gets another chance to make an individual artistic statement, but fails to cast a shadow all his own.
On Familial, Selway’s touch (assisted by members of Wilco) was delicate to the point of being precious. Within the first seconds of Weatherhouse’s opener, “Coming Up for Air”, it’s clear the game has changed. Throbbing synth and echoing bass are joined by a snicker-snack snare groove that recalls the work of Massive Attack instead of Fairport Convention. With a sigh of relief, we confirm that we’re still in the 21st century.