In all-too frequent reminders, fans of Radiohead have had to confront the varied interests of each member outside of the peculiar yet familiar entity. But who does Philip Selway think he is, and why has he convinced himself he’s up to the task of tackling genres and sounds more foreign to his immediate craft?
As a member of a band that has been dissected to no end, it’d be easy to neglect Selway’s forays into more traditional pop avenues. But it’d be a shame to ignore his collaborations with Neil Finn through nearly a decade’s worth of 7 Worlds Collide performances and releases. Providing the backbone for members of Finn’s outfits, as well as equally weighty musicians from Wilco and The Smiths, Selway has clearly learned to articulate the subtleties of pop music. He’s just more upfront with his desire to reconnect with music in one of its more rudimentary forms.
As the album title suggest, Familial provides a canvas with which Selway taps into the synapses of subconscious. Sure, there are small moments that will lend themselves to Thom Yorke/Radiohead comparisons; Selway’s vocals on “All Eyes on You” recalls The Bends, and “Beyond Reason’s” symmetric rhythm and wafting vocals are similar to Yorke’s celebrated solo jaunt, The Eraser. Yet these similarities are fleeting, doing more to blur the strengths of Familial than lift it. Indeed, it’s in the moment when Selway relies on simpler ideas, particularly on folk cues, when the album is at its most affecting.
And boiled down, that’s exactly what Familial represents. By forgoing the bells and whistles clearly at his disposal — thanks to 7 Worlds Collide friends Lisa Germano, Glenn Kotche (Wilco), and Pat Sansone (Wilco, The Autumn Defense) — Selway creates a wonderfully stripped-down affair, effortlessly removed from the hype that often centered on Selway’s primary gig. The guitar flourishes, the lyrics of love, and the brief orchestral interludes that dot “The Ties That Bind Us” make it the prime example, but it’s a pattern that’s repeated throughout the album to much success.
That Familial doesn’t fulfill expectation proves its greatest strength, and though paragraphs will be filled as to the many parallels between his debut album and Radiohead, contextualization will only get you so far. Familial is a worthwhile attempt at the contemporary folk that has been bastardized by many, coddled by some, and ignored by most. In this regard, perhaps Selway has forged an experiment more daring than you might think.