Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool Review

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Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool Review

Eleven days ago, Radiohead released their ninth studio album, A Moon Shaped Pool.  Preceded by a self-induced social-media-blackout, the album crashed onto a landscape of anticipation.  And if the singles were any indication as to the overall quality of the band’s new endeavor, we’re in for a treat indeed.

Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool Review

Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool Review

 

Recording taking place in France with staple producer Nigel Godrich, A Moon Shaped Pool makes use of several tracks from bygone eras the Radiohead saga.

The whole experience kicks off with Burn the Witch, a holdover from 2000 or so that combines frenetic strings and cymbals with a low, grinding bass that crawls over your ears and into your brain.  Here, Yorke’s ever-dreamlike vocals are deliciously juxtaposed with lyrics of disgust and aversion, giving way to a cacophonous crescendo that fades into silence.

The second track, Daydreaming, easily emerges from that silence, with a lilting piano melody backed by synthesizers.  If disgust and aversion were the undertones of Burn the Witch, then melancholic introspection may be the motif of Daydreaming, with the track flowing and rolling through its paces, and culminating in a summit of volume that devolves into a man, snoring.

Strings take the forefront on Desert Island Disk (and more tracks, as well), again punctuated by Thom Yorke’s voice. Sythesizers are there, but the whole album makes greater use of strings – both violins and guitars – to gorgeous effect.

And while these arrangements of instruments could do much to lift even the most casual listener, it is Yorke’s precise and emotive delivery that checks our ascent.

Take the track Glass Eyes, for example:  beginning with synthesizers and a lilting piano, quietly screaming violins streak across the soundstage, underscored by plaintive cellos. And through it all, that voice.  Just beautiful.

As The Numbers will show, though, A Moon Shaped Pool is anything but a simple album, making use of shifts in tones to denote its evolving body as it darts between rage and melancholy, melodic rock porn and hard, unforgiving auditory hallucinations.  Building throughout the duration of the album, these moods settle in layers, the instrumentation painting a beautiful canvas across which words are splattered and smeared.

Trying to pin any type of critical analysis on A Moon Shaped Pool is like trying to nail a fly to the wall in the midst of an earthquake.  While you’re on drugs.  With really good music playing in the background.  As such, it’s no real wonder why so many critics have been raving about this album for the past week or so.  Even though I’ve been a fan of Radiohead since I heard Pablo Honey in high school, if I were a newcomer to this sound I would probably find it just as beautiful and curious.

Because that’s where the real mastery of A Moon Shaped Pool lies – not in how it sounds from one track to the next, or where one instruments cuts another off and layers itself just so, but in how the whole album comes together.  Taken from start to finish, it could be anger and angst and raw energy giving way to sadness and isolation and a greater semblance of structure (a point easily illustrated by the closing track, True Love Waits).  Or, taken cyclically, it’s a pendulous swing between myriad emotions and sounds – a portrait of something like a musician, or just a mere human being.

A Moon Shaped Pool is currently available as a digital download from select online retailers.  Keep your eyes peeled for the CD and LP from XL in September.