More than enough ink has been spilled on the Oxford, UK-based quintet Radiohead — to the point that delving deeply into the band’s backstory will seem largely unnecessary; however, what I will say is that the quintet comprised of classmates and long-time friends, Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar), multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood (bass), Ed O’Brien (guitar) and Philip Selway (drums) have developed a reputation for being arguably one of most influential and important bands of the past 20 years as they’ve managed to be both critically and commercially successful — all while being uncompromisingly experimental and challenging.
“15 Step,” one of my favorite songs off In Rainbows is a shuffling song based around uncommon and highly unusual syncopation for contemporary pop music (5/4 time — count it, you’ll hear 5 beats), swirling electronics, shimmering guitar chords and Yorke’s plaintive and ethereal vocals in an eerily breezy song that expresses betrayal and confusion with an accusatory sense of heartache.
Now, if you’ve been frequenting JOVM over the past couple of years, you may recall hearing of Sophia Exiner, an Australian-born, Berlin, Germany-based indie pop singer/songwriter, best known as Phia, whose playfully experimental sound comprised of loop pedals and the kalimba, an African thumb piano-like instrument popularly used throughout sub-Saharan Africa has been compared to the likes of Bjork, tUnE yArDs, Regina Spektor and others —and considering that all of those artists have developed reputations for work that’s unique, uncompromising, challenging and yet entirely approachable those comparisons are lofty yet fitting.
Exiner, has received attention internationally — and here — with the release of “Do You Ever,” a breezy and charming pop track with an infectious hook that not only employed the use of her kalimba and loop pedal, but managed to sound as though it were drawing influence from In Ghost Colours-era Cut Copy and St. Lucia as it also possessed elements of guitar-based electro pop.
Recently, Phia released an equally breezy and subtly seductive cover of Radiohead’s “15 Steps” which retains swirling and atmospheric electronics, and the unusual 5/4 syncopation — although with Phia’s cover, the percussion is based around looped handclaps. Guitar is replaced with kalimba which gives the song a child-like sense of menace and unease while Phia’s vocals add a subtle seductiveness to the entire proceedings that gives the song a completely different interpretation — it heightens the dysfunction and toxicity of the relationship at the center of the song while retaining the song’s spirit and intention.