December 18, 2018

Thom Yorke - Suspiria Review



One might have wondered how long it was going to take Thom Yorke, lead singer of Radiohead, to branch out into recording full length film soundtracks, following in the footsteps of his bandmate Jonny Greenwood, with his already extensive catalogue. For some, a movie can become more popularized when an already famous artist takes up the songwriting duties. I remember in 2007 when I heard that There Will Be Blood directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and starring Daniel Day-Lewis was going to have music made by Jonny Greenwood, and I was immediately interested in the film, feeling its status already elevated from my point of view. His work has continued with most recently You Were Never Really Here and Phantom Thread, both released just last year. As far as Thom is concerned though, there were hints that he was more interested in branching out musically, mostly due to his other side projects as a solo artist, his other band Atoms for Peace, and having some of his Radiohead and solo work already getting featured in a number of films. Radiohead's attempt to get the title track for the most recent James Bond film, Spectre, was unexpectedly turned down; they ended up releasing the eponymously titled track as a single and b-side anyways, on their latest studio effort, 2016's A Moon Shaped Pool. Now, Thom Yorke finally gets his first full length soundtrack to let loose and explore multiple genres: Radiohead(y) rock, eerie soundscapes, piano ballads, church-like choirs, and drone, which all blend in and out of each other seamlessly, as Thom uses his masterclass talent in songwriting and musical experimentation to create an unsettling and unforgettable mood to be paired with this highly acclaimed Suspiria remake.

Thom's opening number is a classic setup that sounds and almost gives the impression of an orchestra warming up as strings build and soar and synthesizers sweep overhead, setting the mood for a highly atmospheric and moody film and album. "The Hooks", basically Thom's second intro, introduces the piano, and he uses it with a bleakness and loneliness which is revisited in several songs throughout. "Suspirium" is not quite the title of the film, but nevertheless it still serves as its title song, since it's the first track featuring Yorke's vocals, and also has its own "Suspirium Finale" reprise on the second side. It's a classic Thom Yorke piano ballad, which resonates a timeless melancholy that only Yorke is capable of. After the title, we are returned to another version of his bleak piano walk found in the intro, now with ghostly moaning strings, and have officially entered the cyclical nature of Suspiria's soundtrack: haunting pianos, synthesized soundscapes, and Thom Yorke vocals.

"Has Ended" is Thom's first reference to the witches, a common theme in the film, but also a connective tissue to Radiohead’s last album, A Moon Shaped Pool’s opener, “Burn The Witch”. In style, it opens with droning sitar-like synthesizers and a soft drumbeat. Several of these Yorke-sung songs sound as if they were originally spawned from A Moon Shaped Pool's studio sessions, but despite this similarity (which is not at all a criticism), they work for this album with Thom’s haunting vocals to enhance the mood of the film. The remainder of the first side is full of several more unnerving soundscapes, church choirs, and vocal tracks. Most notably, Yorke's penultimate track, "Unmade", a brilliant, melancholy, and single-worthy track that has Yorke's beautiful falsetto and vocal register going along with a heavenly choir as he plays his piano. There are plenty of highlights on Suspiria, but "Unmade" may be the highest peak. The last track of side 1, "The Jumps", echos faintly the melody of its predecessor before it dissolves into ambience, and grows into its own synth crescendo.

Side 2 is an interesting creative decision for Yorke, given the fact that the total runtime for this soundtrack is 15 seconds over the allowed 80 minutes for a single disc. Instead of cutting one of his tracks down by 30 seconds or so, Yorke opted to make Suspiria 2 sides, possibly implying an intermission and intended break between both halves, in the music and the film. Still, the thread continues to unspool with side 2’s opening number, “Volk”, repeating the closing synthesized hymn of “The Jumps”, and unfolding into its own brooding atmosphere, full of unsettling double bass beats and ending with a chaotic crescendo. “The Universe is Indifferent” is another vocal track, bringing in what sounds like eastern musical influences with its droning strings and Yorke’s unrelenting ghostly vocal wisps. It's not long before we are treated to a reprise of the main theme, with "Suspirium Finale", a more full-bodied theme with strings this time around. The remainder of side 2 rides out with various ambient and synthesized soundscapes, "A Choir of One", most notably, is the longest track on this double album, clocking in at just over 14 minutes of slow-churning drone.

Suspiria’s soundtrack is a moody and haunting epic, worthy of a horror movie remake that already stands on its own with its own unique flair and dichotomy of the beautiful and the ugly. Thom Yorke’s debut as a film score composer will only continue to unfold, if he is up to the task. Whether this is his first and last one remains to be seen, but ultimately, his music does so much to enhance visual spectacle that it would seem a waste to just stay in the audio sphere, and for this reason, Yorke deserves as many film opportunities that may come his way.

Suspiria - 8.5/10

Recommended Tracks: Suspirium, Has Ended, Unmade