It's Thom Yorke's 44th birthday on Sunday, the day after the band play the first English date of their world tour. To mark it, I've ranked his work outside Radiohead, with collaborators or alone. Despite his reputation for being unapproachable, Yorke has made music with a varied bunch of musicians from Björk to Burial, Modeselektor to PJ Harvey. It's pretty amazing that on top of his main job in the greatest band in the world, he wrote 'The Eraser', his debut solo album (it reached #3 in the UK charts and #2 in the US as well as being nominated for a Grammy and a Mercury). I'm sure you've got your own ideas of what should be number one so let me know in the comments below.
Björk and Yorke's collaboration was nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Song. It's on the soundtrack to Dancer In The Dark. This has got to be one of the greatest pair-ups of 21st century music. It's understandably very filmic, with moments of glissando, soaring strings and moody brass. Lyrically it's kinda surreal and psychedelic. It's no surprise their voices work perfectly side by side. It's also the cheesiest track Yorke's ever done,
Yorke's collaboration with Buriel and Four Tet was released on Text Records last year. 'Mirror' is the B-side to 'Ego' and both are refined examples of skeletal, insectival post-dubstep, but 'Mirror' has a little more meat to it. Powered by Burial's tick-tocky 2-step, Four Tet's dreamy shades and Yorke's melancholic, hypnotising vocals.
Yorke first collaborated with Modeselektor in 2007 for 'The White Flash'. He features on two songs from their latest album 'Monkeytown'. Call me biased but 'Shipwreck' is the best track on the LP. It's bassy-heavy and glitchy with a combination of polyrhythmic and four-to-the-floor beats. It has Yorke written all over it.
An oldie, but a beauty. Yorke's duet with Drugstore is an attack on Pinochet, the Chilean dictator, and dedicated to Salvador Allende, the Socialist politician he overthrew in 1973. It's simple, very 90s and has the prettiest key changes.
When 'The Eraser' came out in 2006, Yorke was very keen for people to know it had been made with the rest of Radiohead's blessing and he expressed his dislike of the word 'solo'. Although it's hard to argue this isn't a solo work, the keys that form the backbone of the track are a sample of Jonny Greenwood's playing. It starts off sparsely before breaking into a warmer, glowing chorus with angelic backing vocals, before a harmonic return to darkness, lest we get too comfortable.
'TheHollowEarth' is the second track on FeelingPulledApartByHorses, the double A-side 12-inch single released in 2009. The way Yorke sings "Without a conscience" has got to be one of the best openers to a song. It's frenetic and catchy and displays Yorke's innovative streak and interest in experimenting with electronic beats.
The second track from 'The Eraser' rises and falls like rolling waves, building and dropping. It has a stunning piano passage around the 3.10 mark and showcases Yorke's vocals. Apparently it's about a power blackout. Here's Yorke: "I used to live in central Oxford, on one of those historical streets, with all these houses built in the 1860s. I came home one night and for some reason, the street had a power cut. The houses were all dark, with candlelight in the windows, which is obviously how it would have been when they were built. It was beautiful".
Yorke wrote 'Rabbit In Your Headlights' with UNKLE's Josh Davis (and DJ Shadow) and it was the lead single from the duo's debut album 'Psyence Fiction'. It's a mixture of Yorke's acidic lyrics and his early vocal style and Davis's skilled use of a ton of samples.
The first weekend 'Default' came out in early September I listened to it on repeat around 100 times until my brain started to shut down in protest. It's the best song Atoms For Peace (Yorke's group with Flea, Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco) have written to date. It speeds forward on a Lotus Flower-esque beat and a typically electronic ostinato motif. The key change into the chorus is unexpected and that's when the song blooms. It's a good sign for next year's debut.
"'Cos this is fucked up, fucked up," sings Yorke in the chorus of his solo masterpiece. 'Black Swan' has got everything: beautiful close harmonies, an unsettling narrative, rhythms that sounded like a cloud thudding against a window a bass line that's almost witty and a White Town-esque breakdown. Happy Birthday, Thom Yorke. We salute you.