Spend a few minutes with Suspiria,and almost unconsciously, the spooky Italian prog-rock outfit Goblin will spring to mind. Now, Thom Yorke’s Suspiria sounds really nothing like Goblin, who scored the original 1977 horror thriller from which this work takes its inspiration. Still, Radiohead’s leader feels like a kindred spirit of Goblin in that his soundtrack also distorts and disorients. Whereas Goblin’s Gothic-like take dashes from chamber orchestrations to electronic experiments to intensely fast metal, Yorke works on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. His piano arrangements find romance in distress, and his digital compositions feel skeletal and inhuman, even when paired with a choir voice.
While the atonal work of Aphex Twin surfaces, Radiohead fans may also find something familiar here. Suspiria often feels like the English band at its most ambient, remixed and stripped apart to represent something terrifying. Whenever Yorke lulls the listener into a rather comforting moment—say the buzzing, almost sitar-like drones of “The Universe Is Indifferent”—a blast of glacial distorted noise (think Godspeed You! Black Emperor) shocks its way to the forefront.
There are different theories as to what makes a successful soundtrack. Some believe the musician should remain entirely in service of the cinematic work, creating solely to reflect the tones, feelings, and emotions on the screen. Others argue a great soundtrack is one that can succeed when divorced from the film.
It’sdifficult to imagine the equally beautiful and violent Suspiriacompletely dissociated from the film. Yorke, like the film’s director Luca Guadagnino, juggles grace with revulsion, and art-house pretension with explosive shock. While Yorke devotees will hear some recognizable effects, including the singer’s soft, fragile voice, no one will mistake it for a Yorke solo record.
Anyone who has seen the original Suspiria may have been haunted by Goblin’s core theme, built from seemingly playful music box-like atmospheres. Nothing on Thom Yorke’s soundtrack is as childish, cartoonish, and instantly memorable. But that’s not a knock. In a film that often revels in the gracefulness of ballet movements, Yorke’s central and repeated refrain—heard most prominently on the piano cut “Suspirium”—functions as a gorgeous circular waltz. “All is well as long as we keep spinning,” Yorke sings, his voice near a falsetto but clear. It serves as one of the few moments of the soundtrack that transcend the medium: “Suspirium” represents a compact ode to the allure of dance.
Do not settle in.
Even as “Belongings Thrown in a River” begins with a twinkling of notes, its walls of piercing noise will probably test the most devoted of listeners. Similarly, with its synthesizers and a diverging religious hum, “A Choir of One” comes on as a work tailor-made for a horror film. Yet the ambitious, minimalistic sonic collage also proves rightfully nightmare-inducing, given its nearly 15-minute length. And while short bursts of atonal ambience—a shuffling of feet, a demonic tick-tock—likewise pair with images on a screen, there’s little reason to revisit the reverberations on record.
Above all, one is left curious about how such ambiguous elements could someday influence a proper Yorke or Radiohead song. Perhaps the film’s “Unmade” provides an answer. Here, Yorke uses his voice as an instrument, practically matching the pitch of drones in the background, while a roomy piano seems to slow down and create more space as the song unfolds.
Housed in a gatefold jacket with lyrics and demented scrawls, Suspiria sounds immaculate on pink vinyl. Considering much of the 80-minute work relies on silence and quiet noses, it remains unsettling at how clean and airy everything feels. As one piano lullaby ends, a harsh mix of digital sonics began. They slice the warmth with the precision and fierceness of a meat slicer. As Yorke brings in electronic fuzz or woodsy ticks, it all feels uncomfortable—like an imaginary insect crawling over one’s body.
As ideal as the mix may be—the orchestral moments seem preserved in ember—it is difficult to recommend Suspiria as a vinyl purchase for anyone other than Yorke diehards. Not because it lacks ambition or weirdness that demands closer examination, but because most Yorke and Radiohead fans will likely be content downloading the few song-like tracks here. “Suspirium” and “Unmade” absolutely deserve such a home.
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