Mother Falcon: MF Computer – Just that Mother Falcon has appropriated OK Computer’s title and stamped their own initials over the front end of it is properly audacious, but stick with me – this is one of the most interesting things I’ve heard all year. Mother Falcon performed all of their OK Computer cover live as the second half of their show when I saw them last year, and their cover album is nearly just as good.
You might remember Mother Falcon as that one 20-plus member orchestral chamber pop group, so these covers feature orchestral instrumentation. This doesn’t mean they’re a string quartet covering songs as a tribute or an attempt at a facsimile reproduction of the original, mind you. Mother Falcon has taken the massively well-reviewed and seemingly untouchable OK Computer and made it sound like it was written for an orchestral pop group in the first place.
There is a quiet urgency to opening track ‘Airbags’ that immediately draws listeners in and is a good indicator of the rest of the album’s style. It’s followed by a powerful rendition of ‘Paranoid Android’, one of the best tracks on MF Computer. The vocals are probably a little polarizing – I love them, and they’re passionate and intense, but they’re not, you know, Thom Yorke. The key to appreciating MF Computer lies in letting go of everything you know about the original and accepting that this version is going to be its own entity, and this is especially true of ‘Paranoid Android’. This cover also stands out for being especially lovingly-crafted.
Mother Falcon have made smart choices in their arrangement of ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’. This chorus mixed with the strings and sax is particularly good, and the running piano line was an excellent decision for this track.
Of all the songs on MF Computer, ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ was the one I had the highest hopes for, but this track is slightly disappointing. In fairness, it’s my favorite Radiohead song, and by admitting that I’m also admitting I’ve broken my own rule of letting Mother Falcon be Mother Falcon. The track isn’t bad; the simple guitar line and soft, plaintive vocals set everything up nicely, and it’s great during the intro and verses, especially when those creepy descending strings come in before the chorus. Ultimately, though, the chorus simply lacks the necessary punch to make this cover a winner, and some of the higher-register vocals seem just slightly too high at times.
‘Let Down’ gets things back on track with simple, minimal instrumentation that lets Mother Falcon’s ethereal vocals take center stage. All the vocalists do a stellar job of harmonizing throughout the song, and the post-piano break vocals are chillingly beautiful as they build.
‘Karma Police’ is another track that meets with high listener expectations, but it fares much better than ‘Exit Music’. The vocals here are strong and unapologetic, with the threat “This is what you’ll get when you mess with us” sung sweetly and sincerely. This song also has just really excellent string work, and the banjo at the change works perfectly. When the songs reaches the line, “For a minute there, I lost myself,” it’s gorgeous.
Next is ‘Fitter Happier’, which is a track that works better live. When I saw Mother Falcon, they passed out a lyrics sheet for this one and had the audience chant along with them, and the effect was a little surreal and very fitting for ‘Fitter Happier’, but it isn’t well-recorded here. There are some outstandingly weird sound effects and a mounting sense of urgency, so it’s creepy and a good take on the original, but it’s a track I tend to skip over when I listen to MF Computer.
The mood bounces back with ‘Electioneering’, which has some of the most fun instrumentals on the album – the track really grooves. The trumpets and especially the saxes wail in all the right moments, and the rough edge to the vocals adds a reckless quality to the track that complements everything else that’s going on, so no complaints here. Tracks that stand out towards the end of the album include ‘Climbing Up The Walls’, which features a mixed bass-and-sound effect intro that’s sinister and weird and vocals that are low like a secret, and ‘No Surprises’, with string-plucking that’s gentler here than in the other songs, like a light rain hitting your window.
For all and any criticisms I’ve offered, this is one of the cooler things I’ve heard a band do lately. Tackling Radiohead’s beloved OK Computer and putting so much work into the instrumentation and delivery is an impressive feat in and of itself, but then everything works so well. The songs transcend being mere covers and succeed in being something different than what Radiohead originally released. Mother Falcon don’t apologize for touching such esteemed material and don’t try to sound like Radiohead; they take the album and completely make it their own. MF Computer is something new, different and tremendously impressive…9.0/10