Brad Mehldau

I can’t resist offering a quick addendum to yesterday’s post about Vitamin String Quartet.

While VSQ boasts a killer catalog, I’ve yet to find a song to depose Brad Mehldau’s version of “Exit Music (For A Film),” the current king of instrumental cover music mountain. But to be fair, that’s a tough throne to topple. My attachment to “Exit Music” runs waaaaay deep. Why so deep? Because never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

(Just for the record, I’m a terrible English major and butchered that quote when I tried to type it from memory.)

I was 13 when Leo + Claire’s version of Romeo + Juliet came out, and nothing kick starts a half-decade of angst like some star-crossed lovers, incredibly ornate handguns and Radiohead! I love that movie, and not just because it’s a Molotov cocktail of adolescent anxiety, with Thom Yorke providing the lighter. It’s creative, visually stunning, wildly depressing (always a plus), and of course there’s the fish tank scene, which kicks all sorts of ass… It’s one those movies I have to finish whenever it comes on TV, and my favorite Radiohead song of all is always there to greet me at the end.

“Exit Music” begins its slow creep when you’re at your lowest, having just witnessed a pair of beautiful-person suicides, and it builds slowly before boiling over with that seething anger that Yorke summons like no one else. I know I’m biased, being a fan of both the movie and the band, but it really is amazing hearing that song when the credits come up. Not only are its lyrics a beautiful abstraction of the play’s themes; the song’s bleak mood, climax and cruel final fizzle could pass for a Cliff’s Notes version of the story (ya know, minus the happy, love-y part at the beginning) — a retelling that pulls you even lower, not unlike the cop’s harsh summation near the movie’s conclusion. OK, so I know he’s not a cop in the play, but I can’t remember what he was in the play because, as previously mentioned, I’m a terrible English major.

Incredibly, Mehldau’s version manages to tap into that dark, dense mixture of emotions, with arpeggiated piano chords that ratchet up tension in a way that would make Jonny Greenwood proud, and cymbal-work that skillfully harnesses the song’s frenetic forward momentum. It’s a fantastic companion to the original version, and I encourage you to preview it below and snag it on iTunes here. And if you don’t own Radiohead’s OK Computer, you are throwing your life away can snag that here.

Brad Mehldau — “Exit Music (For A Film)” (Radiohead cover) [Spotify/iTunes]

Radiohead — “Exit Music (For A Film)” [Spotify/iTunes]

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