The Smile Debut Paul Thomas Anderson Video, Tease More New Music

Thom Yorke – Confidenza OST
XL Recordings

Thom Yorke’s latest soundtrack opens with “The Big City,” an electro-symphonic slumber of synth bleeps and vocal blips. The album ends with “On the Ledge,” which evokes the sublime nightmare of a free-jazz brass band strutting down a portal into hell. If you could time travel back to the strained, exploratory sessions for Kid A and Amnesiac—his Big Swing albums with Radiohead, where he led his bandmates into dark corridors of sampling, vocal processing, modular synths, and krautrock rhythms—to play him Confidenza, he’d probably beam from ear to ear. 

It reads like hyperbole, given the relatively low stakes of soundtracks and Yorke’s general god-like stature, but this project feels like a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flag-plant moment. He’s been experimenting with jazz and ambience and strings since the days of dial-up modems—from Kid A to A Moon Shaped Pool up through his more recent, even wilder work in the Smile—but it’s notable, to borrow a Radiohead phrase, how at ease he sounds here. There are no audible guitars, only a handful of drum grooves, with his signature falsetto dropped like breadcrumbs throughout mazes of synth and orchestration. Still, it’s unmistakably him

Working with producer Sam Petts-Davies, the London Contemporary Orchestra, and conductor Hugh Brunt, Yorke constructed Confidenza as an absorbing front-to-back album—an assessment you couldn’t quite dole out to the overlong Suspiria, which, outside of a few transcendent vocal tracks, feels inextricably linked to Luca Guadagnino’s surreal horror visuals. Even without seeing Confidenza the film, directed by Daniele Luchetti, you’re good: 12 tracks, 36 minutes, a satisfying musical arc. 

The vocal pieces, naturally, raise the immediate goosebumps. On “Four Ways in Time,” Yorke flutters in octaves over trembling strings and the muted, punctuated thump of Smile drummer Tom Skinner. “Knife Edge” is pleasingly hissy and off-the-grid—an imagined lullaby warped by memory, with Yorke cooing in tandem with chiming keys that conjure a music box in a dusty, boarded-up attic. But even the segues add to the vibe: “Letting Down Gently” is like ECM via Spirit of Eden, breathy saxophones conversing over probing double-bass. It’s over in a minute, almost a tease—but just like Yorke, it’s suited to stretch out endlessly. – GRADE: A-

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You can check out Confidenza OST on Bandcamp and elsewhere.

XL Recordings (artwork by Thom Yorke with design by Stanley Donwood)

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