Album Review : Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)
Look, I don't have a historically great relationship to Radiohead's music. I might've referred to it as "random booping satellite sounds" and "annoying falsettos." Don't get me wrong, I still stand by most of these comments. Everything Radiohead recorded between Kid A and The King of Limbs is utterly unintelligible to me. I'll debate you to death that OK Computer wasn't THAT great. So, let me ask the question for you: why, of all people, did I want to put myself through another Radiohead album? This is a valid question and I don't blame you for wanting to murder me right now.
I took a chance on the first single Burn the Witch when it came out. And guess what? I was flabbergasted to hear strings! It's been since The Bends I believe, since I heard an organic music instrument on one of their songs. Could they be going back to their old sound? Burn the Witch isn't exactly a Brit Rock anthem, but it's a haunting and aerial track that blends the strings and the self-conscious howls of Thom Yorke into a textured and otherworldly sound. Burn the Witch has a powerful and majestic identity, so I decided to give A Moon Shaped Pool a shot.
Of course, none of the other songs on the record sounds anything like Burn the Witch, but A Moon Shaped Pool was a bleak, yet profound return to a morn organic approach to musical creation by Radiohead. I kind of liked it.
The video for Burn the Witch was almost immediately followed by the release of the video for Daydreaming, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson himself. I'm not going to make any friends here, but I believe it's a song that's meant to enjoy both with headphone and video support. Daydreaming is eerie and subtly layered, but it's a minimalist mood song. It's not meant to be profound if you're not into an introspective mood yourself. I thought the following track Decks Dark was much more interesting both sonically and lyrically speaking. The background opera vocals particularly created an tragic and ominous canvas for once again a song with a minimalist approach. It gave the apocalyptic text the proper perspective. It turned out to be one of my favorite songs on A Moon Shaped Pool.
And in your life, there comes the darkness
There's a spacecraft blocking out the sky
And there's nowhere to hide
You run to the back and you cover your ears
It's the loudest sound you've ever heard
In your darkest hour (Decks Dark)
Glass Eyes was another atmospheric gem, although considerably more stripped. It highlighted Thom Yorke immense writing talent. It is one of several instances where A Moon Shaped Pool felt intimate, pained even. It perhaps couldn't be any clearer during the last song on the record True Love Waits where Thom heart-wrenchingly begs someone to stay in his life. It's an instance where there's a purpose to his high-pitched wails. They communicate something that seems greater that his perceived musical genius and it feels liberating to listen to a record of Radiohead that's liberated of that.
A Moon Shaped Pool is a simple and sad record. The real Radiohead fans will appreciate it because it has that musical sophistication they've expected out of themselves. I've given a spin to A Moon Shaped Pool using my colleague's $200 headphone and plenty of fun quirks and detail emerged from the static. Subtle changes in tempo, fluid sound layering, they've given production all the love and attention it deserves to make A Moon Shaped Pool such a pleasure to unfold. It's not a album that will break any records of emotional intensity by any means (did they ever?), but it's a cohesive, melancholic and sophisticated study of different layers of psychological distress.
More important, I was just glad to hear Radiohead turn the corner and get over the ridiculous pressure of reinventing themselves with every album. I get it. It's a great direction for music to go in general and the responsibility is partly theirs because of their transcendent status, but A Moon Shaped Pool felt personal and human like none of their records since The Bends. It build a bridge between the multiple eras of their legacy. I don't think I consciously enjoyed another song on A Moon Shaped Pool outside of those I already named, except maybe for kraut rock influenced Ful Stop, but every song has its place and the record wouldn't be complete if one was missing.
A Moon Shaped Pool is a good Radiohead album. It's not a musical revolution by any means, but it's personable and has a well-defined mood to it. I've enjoyed it. I'm the first surprised at my own admission, but I've enjoyed the damn thing. I would listen to it again. It's music I can process and incorporate to moments of my life and that's what that music thing is all about for me.