Wednesday 30 June 2021

LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead’s Kid A Recycled from string quintet Wooden Elephant

LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead’s Kid A Recycled; Wooden Elephant; Backlash Music
LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead’s Kid A Recycled
; Wooden Elephant; Backlash Music

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 June 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A gloriously imaginative transcription for classical string quintet of Radiohead's album.

I have to confess that I have never listened to much music by Radiohead, but I have been constantly impressed with the way the group's guitarist, Johnny Greenwood, has spanned styles and genres, including being composer in residence with the BBC Concert Orchestra. I was thus, intrigued, when I was sent a copy of the album LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead’s Kid A Recycled by the string quintet Wooden Elephant on the Backlash Music label, as the album features arrangements of Radiohead's album Kid A.

Now evidently, Kid A was the greatest album of the 2000s according to Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, and in it, the rock band started exploring electronic music. As a string quintet, Wooden Elephant specialise in creating acoustic re-imaginings of iconic albums such as Björk’s Homogenic, Beyoncé’s Lemonade and they have now turned their attention to Radiohead’s Kid A

Wooden Elephant is an international group, with members from Ireland, Scotland, Bulgaria, and Norway, featuring Aoife Ni Bhriain and Hulda Jonsdottir, violins, Ian Anderson, viola, Stefan Hadjiev, cello and Nikolai Mattews, bass. It so happens that the violist of the group, Ian Anderson, had worked with Johnny Greenwood as part of the London Contemporary Orchestra and Johnny’s experimentation with how the orchestra’s instruments were used such as extended string techniques and detuning and using non-musical objects to create sounds had a massive influence on how Wooden Elephant works on this album.

They do not just play the five string instruments, there are also ratchets, party blowers, milk frothers, toy archery bows, vibrators, balloon pumps, music boxes, bird water-whistles, wine glasses, bathroom sink plug chains, handheld fans, squeaky pig dog toys, power drills and aluminium foil on the album. But whilst these add colour and texture, the main sound is still that of a contemporary string quartet.

Wooden Elephant's recording session for LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead’s Kid A Recycled
Wooden Elephant's recording session for LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead’s Kid A Recycled

And it feels live and acoustic. Whilst Radiohead might have been experimenting with electronica on the album, here Wooden Elephant give us a gloriously acoustic recreation, recorded as-live in Poland with only a few overdubs.

As I said, I am unfamiliar with Radiohead's work and the press release for the new album says, "You don’t have to be a fan of Radiohead or classical music to enjoy Wooden Elephant’s LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead’s Kid A Recycled, you just have to be into music. Good, brain-expanding music". And I have to admit that I loved the album.

Wooden Elephant's recording session for
LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead’s Kid A Recycled
It has a fascinating sound-world, as there are hints of all sorts of contemporary classical styles, as if boiling Radiohead's music down to acoustic elements revealed the various components influenced by contemporary styles. We get ten tracks, and each is substantial; this is not a compilation of short hits but large-scale explorations of musical style. And early on in listening I completely forgot about Radiohead and concentrated on the glorious textures and imaginative music making from Wooden Elephant.

The result us wonderfully inventive and gloriously off the wall, the effect of the album is nothing short of spectacular. I have been thinking a lot about the art of transcription recently, having been listening to a Ronald Stevenson's piano transcriptions on two albums [see my review], and this album shows that the art of transcription is alive and well. Ian Anderson and Wooden Elephant show great imagination in they way they re-invent the music, and the result sounds as if it was always meant to be like this!

This is one of those unexpected albums that you come across and wish you'd found earlier. Wooden Head have a tour of the album organised covering dates in Germany and Belgium, full details from the ensemble's website.

LANDSCAPES, KNIVES & GLUE – Radiohead’s Kid A Recycled
1. Everything in Its Right Place
2. Kid A
3. The National Anthem
4. How to Disappear Completely
5. Treefingers
6. Optimistic
7. In Limbo
8. Idioteque
9. Morning Bell
10. Motion Picture Soundtrack
All music by Radiohead - Colin Charles Greenwood / Jonathan Richard Guy Greenwood / Edward John O’Brien / Philip James Selway / Thomas Edward Yorke
Arranged by Ian Anderson and Wooden Elephant

Wooden Elephant (Aoife Ni Bhriain and Hulda Jonsdottir, violins, Ian Anderson, viola, Stefan Hadjiev, cello and Nikolai Mattews, bass)
Recorded at RecPublica Studios, Poland, 14-18 January 2020

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