It's probably redundant to remark that this album — the first released under Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke's own name — lacks the dynamism of his band at its peak. It is a solo album after all, the product of one imagination, not five.
Still, it's intriguing — after listening to the gurgling synths and robo drums of The Eraser — to go back to Kid A and Amnesiac. Re-listening to those two discs makes you realize just how guitar-friendly the band was even at its most sonically adventurous. Tracks like "Optimistic," "I Might Be Wrong" and "Knives Out" are rockers first and foremost, and elegantly balance the frigid electro-scapes that fill out those two CDs.
The Eraser — dominated as it is by inorganic elements — focuses the sound of those colder tunes, using as models prior tracks like "Everything in Its Right Place" and "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box." "Black Swan" employs a stuttering hip-hop beat and some gummy bass playing, with Yorke crooning "This is fucked up" over top. "The Clock" has some beatbox percussion beneath its tale of time running out.
The Eraser isn't Aphex Twin-style ambient, though. All of the tracks have very definite melodies and structures and are relatively concise (the longest song is 5:14).
For all of its strengths, though, The Eraser is lacking the variety and energy that Radiohead has demonstrated on every record from The Bends on. Yorke and longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich just don't have enough tricks in the bag to match the splendid schizophrenia of Radiohead in top form. "And it Rained All Night" comes closest to perfection, with its up-tempo rhythm, click-clack percussion and insistent melody.
Radiohead is touring the world all summer and then is set to resume recording its new album this fall. The Eraser will surely help fill the void until the group releases disc number seven, but we can't help but wonder how the band would have feasted on these particular scraps. 3.5 stars
Cold As The Clay
Bad Religion singer Greg Graffin's strong, defiant voice is immediately recognizable on this tribute to American folk/roots traditions, and proves a constant through a collection of originals and standards rendered live in the studio. His own material is performed in electric full-band style, where he's backed by three-fourths of unimpeachable Canadian prairie-rock act The Weakerthans; for the traditionals, he's joined around the microphone by a cadre of skilled acoustic multi-instrumentalists, and Anti- labelmate Jolie Holland lends her timeless voice on and off throughout. Every performance is stellar, and Graffin's Americana songwriting is solid. Cold As The Clay gives off the subtle scent of obligatory respects-paying, but it's inarguably done with superior skill. 3.5 stars
House on Hill
BRAD MEHLDAU TRIO
The prolific jazz pianist/composer recorded these nine original tunes with his working trio that includes bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy. House on Hill doesn't sound like a typical piano-trio date, much to its benefit. Mehldau has gone to great lengths to integrate his compositions and solos, creating a seamlessness not often heard in this shopworn format. The tunes are more angular than catchy, and Mehldau's playing is a bit more extroverted and biting than usual. 3.5 stars
MISSION OF BURMA
Of all the post-punk bands that have reunited lately, Mission of Burma has proven itself the most vital. Gang of Four lamely decided to rerecord its own material; Dinosaur Jr. has so far been content to play its own back catalogue. ONoffON, Burma's first record after a 20-year layoff, was different. It wasn't just of a piece with the band's prior work; it also sounded pretty damn revelatory in the music world of 2004. So how does the band fare in 2006? From the drum kit destruction on "2wice," which opens the album, to the vicious missive "Nancy Reagan's Head" that closes it, The Obliterati is Burma's most purposefully intense and aggressive album. Even a song like "13," which starts as quiet and mournful, gets buried in feedback. The melodies are there, though, and well worth ferreting out. The disc doesn't quite match its predecessor, which balanced a fuller palette, but 23 years after its first breakup, Burma is still confounding expectations. 4 stars