Review Summary: Jonny Greenwood's first solo album allows him to explore the depths of his compositional fantasies. He indulges in multiple genres and produces a lot of great songs and a few too tedious and eccentric
I can’t see Jonny Greenwood making many soundtracks. It limits him, restricts what he can do with his music. That is, if he ever wants to be hired for a soundtrack again. But Bodysong, the accompaniment to the documentary of the same name, is perfect for him. The documentary is about human life, nothing more. Of course, how can there be more than a documentary about something that broad? With the freedom to create music that accompanies such a broad and profound topic, Jonny Greenwood could indulge all his musical fantasies. Although known mostly as the guitarist in Radiohead, nearly this entire album has absolutely no guitar present. This album represents the musical genius of Jonny Greenwood better than any Radiohead album. Yes, more than Kid A or OK Computer or Hail to the Thief.
From classical to acid jazz to electronica to purely percussion tracks, Bodysong contains a multitude of different genres. There is no real defining sound to Bodysong; each song is its own entity, possibly a parallelism to the many aspects of human life. Unlike most soundtracks, this is actually music that is listenable in itself; it does not simply serve as background for the movie, although it would do that well too. Moon Trills
starts the album brilliantly and defines the album’s tone as well as any track could, although it should not be taken as a representation of everything on the album. With a mix of electronica swells, violin trills, random ambient noises, and a piano line that doesn’t really fit with everything else going on, the busyness even in something so quiet is astounding. Still, things get more chaotic as the song progresses. Later in the album, Jonny shows his ability to be much more minimalist in Clockwork Tin Soldiers
, which takes xylophone descending lines and melodies and forms a song out of them. It is dainty but very interesting with the differentiation in octaves. Greenwood puts in a bit of electronic noise and bends the pitch up and down rapidly to make the song a little loopy. The second half of the song is completely different, built of a slow drum beat and deep chords off the keyboard, with the xylophone melodies shimmering in the background.
He steps away from all electronic influence completely with two jazzier tracks, Splitter
and Milky Drops from Heaven
is the more stable of the two tracks, maintaining a solidified uptempo drum and upright bass groove and basing everything off of that groove. It is a very energetic song, drawing a lot of influence from John Coltrane. In the middle of the song, everything cuts out and some very fast Coltrane inspired saxophone takes center stage. Aside from the saxophone solo, the entire song remains in the same basic groove and is the only song on the album that stays the same like that. Milky Drops from Heaven
is just the opposite, much more spastic. It switches from a very laid back bass groove, taking more from Miles Davis than Coltrane to a free jazz, avant-garde flourish of scales and runs. It keeps the listener from becoming too entranced in the groove, but the groove is much more enjoyable to listen to.
Although Greenwood proves himself brilliant at composing and arranging his own music, the line between genius and insanity is very blurred. He stumbles too far into the world of eccentricity on a few tracks, most notably Convergence
. The track is entirely percussion, building into a polyrhythmic groove that feels extremely sloppy and can’t hold itself together. As it reaches its climax, it sounds like a random assortment of percussion banging away, playing two eighth notes at once at completely unrelated times. The track then levels off to everyone playing the same two eighth notes, but this goes on for nearly a minute. It is just annoying and tedious. Nudnik Headache
attempts to be more subtle and trip-hop influence, but it is probably the most boring track on the album. It repeats itself with the same sloppy samples and a rather generic and boring drum beat. Other than these two tracks, Greenwood produces excellent and enjoyable music. He pulls in guitar on two tracks, Iron Swallow
and 24 Hour Charleston
. Iron Swallow
only sees a short appearance, but in 24 Hour Charleston
, the guitar lays down the main idea for the song. Glitchy drums and other noises appear overtop, but the guitars remain the main idea throughout the song. Strings make a large part of the album, taking prominence in Iron Swallow
is purely strings and nothing else, making a beautiful and epic album closer. The melodies are definitely exaggerated and over-the-top in a soundtrack fashion, but the chords played underneath are supremely beautiful.
Bodysong is a tribute to all aspects of human life, the good and the bad. Greenwood’s musical accompaniment is at times playful and often times dark. There is a sense of chaos, the jumbling around of everything a human deals with in his/her life. The changing tone of Tehellet
, from joyful and happy major chords to dissonant or minor chords represents how spastic, delicate, and changing our emotions are. Even without seeing Bodysong, the music that Jonny Greenwood presents is amazingly relatable to human life and helps produce profound thinking. I might recommend this over Mozart to make your newborn child’s brain develop, but it might just scare the *** out of them instead. Some of the changes are so sudden it makes the listener jump, especially if it is playing loud. Still, Bodysong is a fantastic listen that shows off the compositional talents of Jonny Greenwood to their fullest extent.
Clockwork Tin Soldiers