We should probably mention that Philip Selway is the drummer in a small, Oxford-based band called Radiohead. We should probably then follow that up by cracking some well-worn, drummer-baiting witticism with a wink and a nod to Ringo Starr. But we won’t. Let’s stick to the facts, yeah?
Familial is indeed the debut solo album from Phil Selway but there is little light-hearted about it. Opener ‘By Some Miracle’ begins with a whispered count of four and over the the course of 10 songs, proceedings rarely rise above that intimate level. Songs creak into life,with a dodgy floorboard or some distant echo hinting at the personal space we are welcomed into. Fretboards squeak, loops glitch and that comforting, soulful voice rises out of the ever-present tape hiss. Familial is a classic ‘headphone album’; everything is close to your ears, never hurried or demanding, just sitting there waiting for you to appreciate it.
One of the standout aspects of this album is the Nick Drake-like quality of the guitar playing. Gently finger-picked phrases provide subtle counter-melodies, often drawing on Eastern sounding scales, and supply the backbone to the whole album. This reaches its zenith on ‘The Ties That Bind Us’, where those guitars meet jazzy double bass and intense, cautionary lyrics to stunning effect. “I want to shield you from my mistakes” sings Selway as a father, worried about his son and all the world has in store for him.
At its heart Familial is a folk album, though a highly developed one. Selway gives us a masterclass of understated instrumentation and heart-rending intimacy. It’s not an album that will overpower you, but rather one that quietly seeks a small bit of your time. Give it what it asks for and you won’t be disappointed.