Phil Selway – Familial (2010)

Bella Union have a track record for this kind of thing – Midlake, Fleet Foxes, bands of that sort of kidney; Phil Selway is in good company.  Radiohead’s drummer, the man behind some of the most inspired, interesting and utterly original rock drumming of the past two decades here explores his inner singer-songwriter.

Gossamer thin, almost ambient in places, this is no Radiohead rip off. Sounding like a British, middle-aged, optimistic Elliott Smith, Selways sings of family (hence the title), choices, responsibility and memories – ‘The Witching Hour’ is a reminisce about Ed O’Brien’s stag do in the country, ‘The Ties That Bind Us’ is about his son – not the usual sociopolitical commentary of his erstwhile main band. Likewise, the aesthetic is very much un-Radiohead. No experimental, forward pushing beats and breaks here, no Ondes-Martenot, no anguished wails… just old-fashioned songs, and touches here and there of subtle brass.

The band he’s working with really draw out the intimate feeling from these fairly personal and introspective lyrics. On the sticks, a key and very in the spotlight position, considering the name on the front cover, is Glenn Kotche, Wilco’s skin-basher, but he keeps the fireworks firmly under control, with subtlety and gentleness the key here. Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Lisa Germano adds some great textures to the sound, which never sounds dominated by Selway, just directed; rounding out the quartet is Seb Steinberg on bass, who keeps the low end simple, but sound, especially on the very jazzy intro to ‘The Ties That Bind Us’.

‘All Eyes On You’ is a case in point – built around Selway’s vocals and guitar, the song swells and breathes, much like the penultimate, longest and most haunting track, ‘Don’t Look Down’. Sounding more Radiohead-ish than anything else here (and that is a sincere compliment), a song which Selway describes as being a reflection on the key moments in the middle of your life, the realisation of ‘responsibility and experience’, the album reaches a beautiful peak.

Whilst being inspired by the clarity of his forties, the death of his mother, and his life in Radiohead, this has that universal touch of soul that can reach out to anyone, as the best songs really should do. Delicate, but powerful, Selway has stepped out from behind the drumkit to show the world the full extent of his talent.

7/10

Key Tracks: All Eyes On You/Don’t Look Down

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