When Philip Selway, the inspired drummer for Radiohead, released his 2010 solo outing, Familial, the music world wondered what direction he would take and if it would be a departure from his day job. Through that album and its 2014 follow-up, Weatherhouse, Selway has ingeniously combined his unique sonics with undertones of Radiohead with compelling results. Strange Dance is Selway’s third solo venture and offers the artist’s unique musical vision displaying the wisdom and growth he always strives to attain.
Of Strange Dance, Philip Selway says he wanted to convey a broad and tall soundscape that wraps around the intimate lyrics which are at the heart of the release. Surprisingly he chose not to provide the drumming on the album, instead recruiting Italian percussionist Valentina Magaletti. The ten songs on the release were written by Selway at his home on piano and guitar. Entering the studio, he recruited the help of Magaletti, prior contributors Quinta and Laura Moody, along with Hannah Peel, Portishead’s Adrian Utley, and Marta Salogni who also produced. Throughout the tracks, Selway weaves his intimate vocals with swirling strings, synths, pianos, guitars and inspired percussion. As usual, he produces a work of sonic art through collaboration.
“What Keeps You Awake at Night” is mesmerising with dreamlike twinkling xylophones and violins. The accompaniment perfectly aligns with the drifting into sleep quality of the overall progression. This is all brought short by the moment when one awakes in fear from a nightmare as subconscious worry comes to the surface of the conscious. a completely engaging track. “Check for Signs of Life” examines how globally, yet individually, we are returning to normal after the pandemic. We are all getting back into our routines, but we can never really be the same. We are dealing with loss, loneliness and change. There is a heartbreak that is felt yet also a balm that exists knowing we are not the only ones who have experienced the ordeal. This track is wholly honest and pulls no punches.
“Picking Up the Pieces” is a bouncier track filled with drums, and synths and gives off a New Order vibe. The lyrics are filled with encouragement to get back up after a setback and continue to fight. “The Other Side” is a piano ballad with sparse accompaniment that gradually grows into an expansive soundscape. If you listen closely you can pick up the spaceship sonics of Ok Computer and Kid A. The result of this effort is a goosebump-inducing ballad. “The Other Side” and its following tracks build a stronger and stronger case for the worthiness of the release.
The eponymous song “Strange Dance” has a fantastic, abstract, percussive opening. Many elements recommend the track, the best being the alluring wonderful violin that dances amidst the primal percussion. Additionally of note is the lyrical topic identifying the disturbing frightening challenges of life. This track is a departure from the folk/songwriter genre that has been Selway’s bailiwick on his solo works to date. “Make it Go Away” returns to Selway’s wheelhouse as it abounds with acoustic guitars and a toe-tapping rhythm. It is another outstanding display of his progressive folk bonafide.
“The Heart of It All” is alluring with its unmistakable opening of Portishead motifs. Here, through internal dialogue, Selway emphasises that you can’t run from yourself; you can tell yourself lies, but you know the truth. The selection places Selway’s lovely lyrical vocals front and centre, making it one of the best tracks on the album. “Salt Air” has an even broader sonic canvas. It is suspenseful and dramatic as the accompaniment uses industrial and motorik elements. Here, Selway uses the cleansing nature of the sea to deliver the idea of redemption. He states, “I’ve wasted so much time, I won’t make the same mistake again”.
The final track, “There’ll Be Days Like This” is a crystalline track with wide panoramic sounds. The selection builds to a great payoff as Selway lyrically extols the hopes for a better day. He acknowledges the despair and dichotomy that is life but never stops pointing out that like Pandora’s Box, no matter the demons set loose there is always hope.
Strange Dance is Selway’s strongest effort to date. It displays a progression of growth in songwriting, composing and execution in his role as a solo artist. He uses his sonic palette extremely well to reflect the tone he wants to set throughout each track. The release is a culmination of all the artist has learned on his prior outings and endeavours.
Throughout each of his solo works Selway has reflected his personal character of a caring, debonair and open-minded man. With Strange Dance, he has yet again produced a beguiling work well worth the listener’s attention.