Saturday, March 6, 2010

REVIEW: Thom Yorke - “Hearing Damage,” New Moon Soundtrack

Back in July of last year, the first rumblings that Thom Yorke had signed on to the Twilight Saga: New Moon soundtrack appeared, which (when that rumour turned out to be true) initiated one of the more bizarre collisions of high and low culture in 2009.

The album is packed with '09's most recognizable indie heavy hitters such as Grizzly Bear, Lykke Li, and Bon Iver. All three artists had critically lauded albums out in the past two years, which begs the question: why New Moon? Why deign to support a franchise that, to those with more discerning tastes than your average 13-year-old, is clearly the sum of female-perpetuated misogyny and an inability to comprehend the moral behind the Wuthering Heights? The answer could simply be, “Thom Yorke did it first.” There's also a slim possibility that, through music, these artists can accomplish something – a sort of deeper exploration of the themes involved in a series about self-loathing and assisted suicide – that both the novels and the films gloss over.

The record as a whole is alternately moody and poppy – much like the book and (one would think, thought I haven't seen it) the movie. Bella's vampire boyfriend ditches her after a disastrous birthday party (a human celebration that Bella despises because it celebrates life as mortals know it, something she wishes she didn't have.... life. Seriously, this girl constantly wishes she were dead throughout the book). Then she spirals into an intense, night terrors-inducing depression for several months. This is clearly the down part of the story, and precisely where Yorke's “Hearing Damage” fits in.

An eerie atmosphere created by the initial electronic drone sets the tone for “Hearing Damage.” A sort of pulse is established and built upon by a drum beat, which leads to the opening lines, “A tear in the membrane / allows the voices in.” Could the opening lines allude to Bella's need to terrorize herself in order to “see” Edward? In the story, Bella starts to have aural hallucinations of Edward's voice whenever she puts herself in danger. Yorke goes on to sing “You can do no wrong / in my eyes,” which is a more clear representation of what Bella thinks about her relationship with Edward. Although he left her in a state of absolute anguish, she still sees him as a god-like figure to which no past or future pain can be attributed to. The song goes on in this fashion, alluding to Bella's depression and constantly re-asserting Bella's belief in Edwards innocence and perfection.

The review of this track brought up an interesting question: Who is this for? I hadn't really considered it when listening to this album. Probably with the ever-presence of new media sites online (like Pitchfork itself) the same twi-hard fans that read Stephanie Meyer's books are also able to enjoy a good Fleet Foxes album, much to the chagrin of university-educated music aficionados who know that Hamlet was never a tragic hero, and certainly that Heathcliff is more of a mad sadist than he is a swoon-worthy leading man. Through the ears of the fans, “Hearing Damage” is probably more romantic than my interpretation.

Is this one of Yorke's best work? No, not at all, but it is a good interpretation of this unconsciously complicated story that hints – if not exactly screams – at the subtext behind a vacuous teen romance novel.

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