Suspiria (2018): Unreleased Material Album Review
Written by Richie Corelli
Released by The Vinyl Factory | XL Recordings
Composed by Thom Yorke
2019, 13 minutes, 12" Vinyl
Released on February 22nd, 2019
Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 classic, Suspiria, is very good. Guadagnino took themes from Argento’s movie, but made drastic changes to shape the film to his own vision. He introduced a slow, layered story. He opted for a muted visual palette. And he switched-out Argento’s house band, Goblin, with Radiohead frontperson Thome Yorke. The songwriter and multi-instrumentalist was reluctant to join the project at first, but he eventually gave in and developed one the best albums of his career.
For the soundtrack, Yorke called to his proven signatures; his falsetto voice, his preferred electronic palette. The album isn’t beat-heavy, but when the drums roll in, they have a distinct Radiohead flair. And yet Yorke doesn’t simply settle into his comfort zone. He moves beyond his regular music and melts traditional horror devices to his compositions. Fabio Frizzi influenced drama dances through much of these tracks. Krautrock diversity stammers in and out. Piano melodies worthy of the best ‘80s slashers stalk around dark corners of electronic noise. Lush pieces of orchestration sweep throughout and give the soundtrack unity and beauty.
It’s a great record, and a few months after the album’s release, in early January 2019, The Vinyl Factory and XL Recordings revealed to fans that there was more on the way. They started taking pre-orders on what was promised to be a 7-track album of unreleased materials from Yorke’s original Suspiria sessions.
There was some controversy with the roll-out. Redditors called it a cash-grab. It was an accusation that is not without warrant. When pre-orders went live on The Vinyl Factory’s website, a bullet-point explicitly advertised the music as “Available on vinyl only”. The release was billed as a 12” exclusive and strictly limited to 1,500 copies. Words like exclusive and strictly limited are effective for sales. They inject a sense of urgency into the wallets of potential customers. In this case, however, the terms were dishonest. On the album’s release day, Suspiria: Unreleased Material was accessible on all major streaming services. It turns out that vinyl only is open to interpretation.
None of this is Yorke’s fault. Questionable sales practices have nothing to do with the music. Unfortunately, most of the songs on this release don’t hold up. "Unmade Overtones", the record’s opener, sees Yorke layering sounds and drones, gently applying pressure at certain points to build a sensation of drama. It’s a good way to start a song, but then it cuts off at a minute and twenty-six seconds. It’s a shame. Ambient needs time to define itself and this track was aborted too quickly. "Unused Spell" is another promising song that falls victim to an early death. Here, piercing jabs of strings battle as they are layered atop one another for forty-nine seconds before a quick fade ends the track. "The7th7th7th7thson" is also too short. It’s one minute and six seconds of rippling drone and unfolding melody. The final three pieces, entitled "Volk Spin Off V1", "Volk Spin Off V2", and "Volk Spin Off V3", respectively, are each snippets of bending noise. All three songs had potential, but none of them are given enough time to deliver.
"A Conversation With Just Your Eyes" is the exception. This song revisits patterns and melodies that are spread across the original release. It combines slow, icy builds with spooky, tingling piano lines. The sounds on this track unspool in a hazy, drugged fashion. Each noise blends into the next. Toward the end of the track, a sluggish, indistinct voice stumbles along they keys. The mixing hides the vocals in the murk. They are barely audible and completely terrifying.
The visual artwork on the casing shows two hands connecting. Fingers are intertwined. An eye is carved into each palm as a symbol of protection. There is a fluidity to the work, a stylish movement. It’s made stronger by the color choices, which force apart the foreground from the background. It’s an accomplished work of art. The problem is that it’s also a recycled work of art. Rather than commission a new work, the record reuses an old one. The image comes from the inside gatefold of the original release. It was flipped as a mirror image and re-angled to make space for the title font (which is also recycled). Having the two covers share a similar aesthetic is a good stylistic decision. It unites them as a series. But using the same exact image is lazy.
Yorke’s original Suspiria soundtrack is his most accomplished solo work to date. This companion piece is not. The album plays like a series of rough drafts, unfinished and incomplete. "A Conversation With Just Your Eyes" is really the only track on here that is fleshed out. The rest of the release would have been better suited as bonus material; enjoyed as extra pieces tacked onto to the back of the proper release to give the listener deeper insight to the project and what Yorke was doing in the studio.
It would be fair to argue that leftover materials and B-side collections should be critiqued on a curve. They should be looked at differently because they were released differently. A sketch in a notebook should not be compared to a painting on a well. With that spirit, there are certainly interesting ideas at play here. And Suspiria Unreleased Material teases the artistry that Yorke is capable of. But it simply isn’t going to be enough for most fans to justify purchasing the album. The best advice for those thinking about hunting down the vinyl would be to leave this one in the vaults and instead take the original for another spin.
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