Qobuz new release review (April 2023)
Of all the Radiohead solo/side projects, Philip Selway’s have been the most conventional. No abstract, post-rock glitchiness; no brain-scraping soundtrack work; no cross-genre experimentalism … just traditionally structured pop songs that are gentle, atmospheric, and slightly melancholic. Strange Dance remains in this vein, while also continuing Selway’s sonic evolution from the laid-back and spare folksiness of his 2010 solo debut, Familial through the more enveloping and electronic-tinged approach of 2014’s Weatherhouse. The music here is still intimate and straightforward, but much more cinematic and sonically complex than any of his prior solo works. Ironically, this may be due to the fact that this is the first of his solo efforts that finds the Radiohead drummer not playing drums. To be sure, there is percussion here, but it’s provided by Valentina Magaletti, a wildly inventive drummer who’s worked with everyone from Bat For Lashes and Gruff Rhys to Thighpaulsandra and Nicolas Jaar. Magaletti’s approach on these Strange Dance tracks is both driving and spacious, melding propulsive rhythms and intricate, expansive soundscapes, giving structure and detail to songs that might otherwise drift off into diffuse solipsism. Within the rhythmic framework that Magaletti provides, Selway is able to indulge his very British songwriting style, which somehow evokes both late-era Pink Floyd and the windswept folksiness of The Magnetic North. His vocals still aren’t super-strong, but his laconic, near-spoken singing style is appropriate for the material, which lets the musical accompaniment do most of the emotional heavy-lifting. Between Magaletti’s filigreed percussion, banks of synth washes and string charts, and melodic piano lines, gentle cuts like “Check For Signs Of Life” and “The Heart of It All” are given a richness and density that elevate them beyond their rather mundane lyrics, while more demanding numbers like the apocalyptic and melodramatic “Salt Air” and the twisty weirdness of the title track become engaging and accessible.