Review Summary: Instead of acting as a coming out party, Familial solidifies Selway's role as the quiet, reserved perfectionist behind Radiohead.
There’s a reason that Philip Selway is often seen as the quiet, focused force behind Radiohead’s esteemed legacy. Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, both in Radiohead’s work and in their solo work, make immense, grandiose statements with every sweep of the compositional pen. If Familial
should be Selway’s coming out party, placing him alongside Yorke and Greenwood in importance in the band, then Familial
is indeed a failure. Instead, Familial
only solidifies his quiet, purposeful role in Radiohead, as the album is as hushed as his presence in his day job.
The man behind so many of Radiohead’s memorable rhythms could have released a bombastic album fully demonstrating just how much power he wields behind a drumset, but instead, Selway completely surrenders the drum throne to Glenn Kotche of Wilco, spending his time weaving simple, effective vocal melodies through his quiet folk compositions. Indeed, the lineup on Familial
should immediately give the impression of intimacy, with members from Wilco, Soul Coughing, and singer-songwriter Lisa Germano filling out Selway’s main roster. The instrumentation hardly expands beyond what these musicians offer, aside from the notable strings at the end of “Falling.”
What remains, then, is a standard folk album from an unexpected source. Opener “By Some Miracle” might be the most melodic affair on the album, and despite its tame nature, it shocks a listener unsure of what Selway might offer. The layered harmonies and memorable melodies all portray a different, unseen side of the drummer, one much less focused on rhythm and more focused on layers of melody. Perhaps most shocking is the quality of Selway’s singing voice. Selway himself was surprised to hear his voice played back to him on a recording, and his hushed tone could provide a wonderful foil to Thom Yorke’s angular croons (but probably not).
, Selway’s compositions continue to impress in their surprising delicacy, but such a personal album will likely have little impact on an outside listener. While the album never gave the impression of wanting to be a commercial success, Familial
plays its cards remarkably close to the chest, much like Selway’s work in Radiohead. Selway never asks for attention, but still receives it through his remarkable consistency and precision.