Sunday, 26 October 2008

Review - Andy Yorke - Simple

Andy Yorke - Simple

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9 out of 10

Andy Yorke, former front man of Unbelievable Truth, has recorded a debut solo record entitled 'Simple'. Although apparently quite successful Unbelievable Truth's momentum waned as their success ebbed away rather than built up and for various reasons Yorke left the band in 2000, allegedly running off to Russia to work as a translator for Greenpeace without any intent of touching a guitar again. Yet Yorke apparently has had some subsequent personal problems and found music to once again be a constructive outlet. Lo behold, a solo record was born.

"The songs were me trying to help and feel better about everything [.] I was writing in spite of myself. They were therapy."

Best get this out of the way as soon as possible: Andy Yorke is the younger brother of Radiohead's Thom Yorke and at times he does sound like him. Actually that is a bit of an unjust assumption, for all we know Thom Yorke may sound like Andy Yorke. After all it would figure there would be some mutual influence as well as some shared influences what with them growing up in the same house, probably listening to the same records and going to the same bars and clubs around Oxford.

I might as well get this out of the way as well: Andy Yorke probably doesn't have to worry about much seeing as his brother IS Thom Yorke of Radiohead.

[A possible telephone conversation]

"Hi Thom, it's Andy"
"Andy, Andy Yorke, your younger brother who is less famous than you"
".Oh yeah. How are you?"
"I'm good thanks. How is that whole lizard eye thing working out these days?"
" what was it you wanted?"
"Well I know Christmas is a good few months off yet but I wanted to start getting on top of presents for people early this year"
"Ok, that's a good idea."
"So what do you want Thom?"
"Well, I don't know, maybe."
"Erm, I don't."
"Great, socks it is then!"
" what do you want Andy?"
"A million pounds."
"A million pounds. I want to do up my house, buy fifty cats, you know, the usual."
"C'mon, we all know about those royalty cheques and you bought Dad that gold plated yacht for his birthday."
"It was silver plated actually .Andy, you do know that the last Radiohead album was sold via our website on donation basis only, right?"
".are you pleading poverty?"

With regards to the actual record it is a brave and impressive solo effort, a collection of personal but memorable songs. If a comparison to his brother's work must be made then it is closest to "The Bends" era Radiohead, the more gentle numbers such as "Fake plastic Trees" or "My Iron Lung" especially, or pieces such as those found on the Airbag/How's My Driving?" EP (a collection of B sides from the "OK Computer" album issued in North America). In short Andy Yorke's record bears resemblance to the more straight cut of Thom Yorke's work, free from any attempts to make overtly complex sonic textures or layered guitar parts, yet without sounding particularly similar to Thom Yorke's own solo effort "Eraser". That is mainly because "Simple" features very organic arrangements: acoustic guitars, drums, bass, strings and the occasional use of some lead electric guitar. Yet rather paradoxically the record that I was reminded of time and time again was REM's 2001 effort "Reveal", which in fact featured a prominent use of synthesizers and a focus on more electronic influences.

If there is one similarity between the Yorke brothers it is their mutual ability to reach and maintain those high faltering notes, that in both cases give their music such a spine tingling quality.

Of The first three tracks, "Simple" lives up to it's name featuring some pleasing string over tones, "Found the road" is a more minor key affair slowly building in momentum while "Twist of the knife" is slower Countryesque number shrouded in a morose dark atmosphere with lots of space with haunting violin. Together they present a welcome opening to the record and are each memorable in their own right. "Rise and fall" is the lead single off the record and deservedly so: the verses start with a sparkling piano riff and a drum sample, warm walking bass and Yorke's fluttering vocals before kicking into euphoric gutsy choruses of power strummed guitar and soaring vocals. "Diamont" is one of the instances where Yorke sounds most like his brother, in the same manner as "Street spirit" even, but at a much slower pace with picked guitar ,organ and string arrangements. "One in a million" is a more electric with growling bass and pounding drums, which fall away into sparse guitar strums, with lyrics such as, "Never knew the songs of God's chosen angels". There is also a nice acoustic guitar melody that is played in time with a violin, aptly demonstrating those rare happenstances of two entities colliding as the song's title suggests.

"Always by your side" begins in a haunting fashion with fluttering vocals over a sparingly laid acoustic riff; you can actually hear Yorke's fingers sliding up and down the round wound guitar strings, pressing them against the fret board. The song soon picks up into gutsier strumming, presenting a bright sound that reverberates though a spacious sonic environment
"Let it be true" starts in a simple fashion before being joined by a jolly string and accordion arrangement. These backing instruments recede as soon as they came, almost as if Yorke is turning them on and off with a switch, fully aware that the less he features such arrangements the more impact they will have. "Mathilda" is more of a down beat lament for a girl increasingly becoming out of reach, "Is it possible our lives were set to collide?"[.] "But now we're just too far along". Here the violin rally comes into it's own, being brought up to dizzying heights by the occasional piano note ringing out and successive vocal harmonies, reminiscent of the exquisite string arrangements that typified The Beatles legendary 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band'. "Lay down" begins like a number off of Neil Young's seminal album 'Harvest', down low with slow back beat, before being joined by buzzy overdriven top string guitar riffs, giving rough jagged edges to this otherwise soft piece. Along with the hum of the organs there is an instance of layered guitar parts, stalled somewhere between REM and Iron Maiden. There is a fantastic breakdown of a walking riff with wooing vocal harmonies that seem to come from all directions. Forgive me Andy Yorke, but once again for lack of a better comparison, it is almost Radiohead like.

"Surrender" seems like one of the last stands, or maybe last haunting of the record, featuring more beautiful wavering vocals and string arrangements. There are groans in the background of the track like spirits leering over your shoulder, ghosts whispering a choir accompaniment. The final "Ode to a friend" relies on a more positive vibe with great soaring synth lines straight out of Joy Division's "Love will tear us apart" or Gary Numan's growling riffs on "Cars", amid sparkling piano lines, presenting a round about and unexpected end to 'Simple'.

Despite my repeated mention of Yorke's older brother his debut solo effort stands on its own as an exceptional and original piece of work. It is intriguing, brave and unashamedly honest about the emotions involved and thus it sits in a very special musical niche of being so painfully human but without becoming a self pitying sob story. With any luck the now solo Yorke will have the inspiration to continue making music of this calibre far into the future.


1. Simple
2. Found the road
3. Twist of the knife
4. Rise and fall
5. Diamant
6. One in a million
7. Always by your side
8. Let it be true
9. Mathilda
10. Lay down
11. Surrender
12. Ode to a friend

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