Thom Yorke is no alien to alienating soundscapes. The musical road following Radiohead’s OK Computer traverses icy electronic to free-form jazz with no respites of conventional “guitar rock” to be found. The frontman’s solo career has trailed along beginning with The Eraser in 2006 and the follow-up Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes released eight years later. This year, Yorke adds film composer to his already distinguished trade as part rock vocalist and part electronic DJ.
Luca Guadagnino’s remake of the 1977 horror classic Suspiria distills the eclectic, voodoo essence of the original’s Goblin score and infuses it with Yorke’s interpretation of ambient, krautrock, and musique concrète.
In a genre dominated by bursts of shrill, dissonant instrumentation “to scare”, Yorke opts instead “to terrify” with sparse, airy soundscapes that tease into something morbid. The track “Volk”, for instance, features the melody of a haunting steel drum that lingers cyclically, punctuated at times with blasts of distorted synth reminiscent of a foghorn. “A Choir of One” captures the eeriness of the Vangelis Blade Runner score (one of his direct inspirations) and transforms it into a 14-minute nightmarish drone.
Scoring the new Suspiria was akin to “making spells”, says Yorke. Rather than face the dread of pure creative potential, where limitless possibilities, limitless outcomes exist, Yorke was instructed to essentially adopt a mood and sonically articulate the feeling of a certain scene; according to him this was quite “freeing” as it kept his persona intact. He did not have to expose himself once again as the odd, melancholic alien artist — he was simply following orders this time.
Yet in a film that centers on cheating the imminence of death, he can’t help but be attracted to its calls. A thorough listen-through of Suspiria is an exploration of Brian Eno, CAN, and Vangelis in a dystopian universe. But an even deeper listen reveals a Thom Yorke who unabashedly puts himself on the line once again. “Suspirium”, one of the few non-electronic tracks, is driven by a falsetto-piano combo that vacillates major and minor, exuding simultaneous hope and despair in the vein of a Radiohead single. Suspiria in its entirety is a spell that enthralls slowly, deliberately, and whose caster’s name is inscribed all over the tome.