OK Lady is a sonic mash-up between Radiohead and alternative R&B. The idea of these two things coalescing to formulate new musical concoctions would fill many Radiohead fans, with either a sense of excitement, caution, or both. Caution is warranted because there is a plethora of Radiohead covers out there, collectively occupying their own jazz-cat back alleyway of the internet, and not all of them are stellar. Enter Roman GianArthur, a vocalist, producer, multi-instrumentalist and member of Janelle Monae’s Wondaland Arts Society. GianArthur set out to compose an album consisting of Radiohead and D’Angelo covers mashed up with all kinds of experimental R&B and electronic goodness.
This album doesn’t waste any time getting to the good stuff: “ALL:NEED,” a cover of Radiohead’s hit song “All I Need” off of 2007’s In Rainbows. This song features a choppy hip-hop infused re-imagining of the original’s beat, accompanied by layered vocal harmonies, culminating in a strong, domineering guitar solo. It is worth noting the guitar instrumentation is handled by GianArthur himself, giving his style an inescapable rock flavor, similar to what can be heard on Miguel’s early 2015 release Wildheart. “ALL:NEED” starts off with GianArthur’s soulful vocal stylings, crooning the lyrics of the original song as well as interpolating lyrics from D’Angelo’s song “Lady” (see: OK Lady). There are times when the guitar riffs take front and center, accompanying and, at some points, slightly overpowering the vocals— as is the case on “ALL:NEED”. This quality of being “slightly overpowering” permeates throughout the album, potentially leading to the listener feeling overwhelmed, simply because too much instrumentation, layering and sound effects are occurring simultaneously.
The unconventional beat arrangements of several, if not all, tracks (namely NO SURPR:SES and PARANO:D) seem to have stylistic echoes of Flying Lotus, a producer who arguably influenced some of Radiohead front-man Thom Yorke’s later musical endeavors. In fact, the prevalence of unconventional beats and avant-garde instrumentation on this record will surely satisfy a good portion of the fans that love the more experimental side of Radiohead’s discography; fans of the albums Kid A, Amnesiac and The King of Limbs will find plenty to love in GianArthur’s heavy use of sound effects, vocal samples and crunchy beats (packed into each track like sardines in a tin box).
One of the standout tracks, and arguably what exemplifies the spirit of the entire album, is “H:GH&DRY”. GianArthur’s vocals are the centrepiece of this track, riding the soothing instrumental re-arrangement of D’Angelo’s song “Untitled (How Does it Feel?).” Furthermore, Janelle Monae features on the track “NO SURPR:SES”, another stand-out, which starts off with a beat played in reverse, leading into an upbeat duet between Monae and GianArthur— no surprises there; Monae shines with a powerful vocal performance before fading into the background and allowing GianArthur’s impressive vocals to take front and centre once more.
As far as how much of Radiohead’s discography is covered, the selection of songs ranges from 1995’s The Bends to 2007’s In Rainbows. Simply put, every song is done justice, and with enough flare and style to stand alone for the uninitiated— namely, those who aren’t familiar with Radiohead or D’Angelo. Roman GianArthur’s masterful handling of each track sounds like the work of a true musical aficionado and virtuoso, and not of a musician trying to throw together something cool to garner mass appeal. It is a perfect, alchemic intersection of different musical styles and minds, creating something novel and unique from the sum of its parts. Fans of R&B and Radiohead can rest easy. OK Lady is one of those rare gems that come along every now and then, oftentimes falling under the mainstream radar. It will not leave you high and dry.