A Moon Shaped Pool

Written by: HES on 22/05/2016 14:27:11

By now I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that Radiohead has written yet another excellent album. Thom Yorke and company have hands down delivered so many great albums since “Pablo Honey” that it will make even the most dedicated metalhead still check it out. “A Moon Shaped Pool” is as cerebrally composed as the former albums, but the album seems to have ventured out of Thom Yorke’s mind and transformed from disparate thoughts to a manifesto of sorts. Where manic thoughts have in varying degrees characterized both soundscape and lyrics, “A Moon Shaped Pool” seems reflective and aware of its listener. The songs are listed alphabetically, perfectly underlining this meticulous and conceptual strive for a perfection the band probably hasn’t equaled since the release of “OK Computer”, yet combined with elements of the control the band’s later releases were dominated by. It all makes for an album that is pretty much one long victory lap.

One of the overwhelmingly successful attributes of the album is the deliberate mix of old and new. Guitarist/keyboardist Jonny Greenwood has said to Pitchfork, that the album is a combination of ”both very new and very old technology” - which is both apparent in sampling and effects, but also in the songs choices: some of the tracks are literally written in other time periods than the one immediately preceding the recording (a trick not new to the band). For an example, the writing of opener and first single “Burn the Witch” was initiated already in the recording process of the band’s 2000 album “Kid A”, and the lyrics emulate the dystopian feel of said record. But it breaks with the dismembered feeling of the lyrics that characterized said album, and provides actual storytelling: ”Red crosses on wooden doors and if you float you burn. Loose talk around tables, abandon all reason, avoid all eye contact. Do not react. Shoot the messengers”. The parallel allegory of the middle age witch trials and subsequent burnings form a strong image of the fear of standing out, standing up for something, and the repercussions of these acts. Col legno strings create a backdrop that is figuratively “on pins”, staccato and movie-esque, combined with underlying, electronic snares.

The most pleasant surprise of the album is the captivating, bossa nova-inspired “Present Tense” that somehow compares to the transience of “In Rainbows”, also dating back to the period in which the band recorded that album. The gentleness of the song contradicts, but also cannot help strangely relating to “Paranoid Android” as the missing fourth section of the iconic song, as its natural counterpart — a paranoid android on Ambien, finally subdued. On the track Yorke delivers mesmerizingly dreamy and gentle vocals, as well as the hauntingly vulnerable falsetto chorus ”I won't get heavy. Don't get heavy. Keep it light and keep it moving. I am doing no harm. As my world comes crashing down, I'm dancing”. The juxtaposition of the upbeat bossa nova shakers and the completely downtrodden protagonist are exemplified by fluttering repeats of the vocals that enter the soundscape as if displaced, finally quenched by soothing choirs.

Breaking with the more organic sounds of violins, cellos and choirs, “Ful Stop” has an oddly industrial and dark groove. Distorted horns sound like mixes of alarms and boat horns, forming a setting of heavy machinery and danger. Yorke’s voice appears in high-pitched, explosive strokes that light up the warm darkness. The depth and warmth of the track reminds me of the warm, stressful dampness of Kashmir’s “Surfing the Warm Industries”.

The album then ventures in a completely different direction with the folkish “Desert Island Disk” perfectly cementing the extremes of an album that should seem fragmented, but somehow still isn’t. I often picture the person that would like the album I am reviewing and with “A Moon Shaped Pool” it’s hard to see one particular characteristic stand out, apart from love for complexity and music that provokes the listener to think of compositions, not only lyrics or instruments. At the same time, partly due to Jonny Greenwood’s interest in sampling, looping and other electronic shenanigans, I would not recommend this album to those who react allergically to electronically tampered music. If you are in doubt of whether or not that includes you, I’d listen to the intro to “Daydreaming” as a musical litmus test. If you enjoy that track, you’ll find no other obstacles on an otherwise thought provoking musical adventure.


Download: Burn the Witch, Daydream, Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief, Present Tense
For The Fans Of: Mogwai, The Flaming Lips, Kashmir, Brian Eno
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Release date 08.05.2016
XL Recordings

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