Radiohead (band photo by Alex Lake, PR)
A Moon Shaped Pool
Radiohead has spent two and a half decades constantly creating and recreating a sound that has always pushed the musical envelope. Their shapeshifting course over the years has gained them the well-deserved reputation as pioneers and innovators. Each new project is met with great anticipation from their fans and music enthusiasts in general.
To no one’s surprise, Radiohead's ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool, was met with universal enthusiasm. It doesn’t necessarily break any new ground for Radiohead's members, but finds them working within familiar territory and mining that area for different ways to express themselves. They combine both electronic and organic instrumentation with orchestra and chorus and put more of a focus on melodies and less on sonic exploration. It’s the presence and utilization of orchestral arrangements and the spectral beauty of the melodies that sets A Moon Shaped Pool apart from earlier albums. Also unmistakable is a warmth that comes through on the album, a characteristic somewhat foreign in Radiohead’s domain.
A Moon Shaped Pool is Radiohead’s first full-length release since 2011’s The King Of Limbs and the band again works with their longtime producer Nigel Godrich. The album was recorded intermittently over the past couple of years and features strings and choral vocals performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra.
Interestingly, it includes a handful of songs that have had a rather long life in Radiohead’s canon. “True Love Waits” has been part of the band’s repertoire for many years, dating as far back as the mid-'90s. In fact, there is a version of “True Love Waits” on the 2001's I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings. “Burn The Witch” has been floating around for the past fifteen years or so, while “Present Tense” is about eight years old. “Identikit” and “Ful Stop” have also been tinkered with in recent years.
“Burn The Witch” opens the album with a suspenseful, chilling tone, the orchestral string section thumping a percussive pulse until reaching a thrilling crescendo. It’s a stunning combination of beauty and terror. This sense of dread is offset by the pastoral, surreal soundscape of “Daydreaming.” But, despite its serene atmosphere, “Daydreaming,” like its predecessor, also slowly creeps towards an unnerving ending, using backmasked vocals to reach a frightening conclusion.
The cinematic quality in these songs is unmistakable. “Ful Stop” is an ambient rocker pulsating along a melody line utilizing guitar, bass, electronics and vocalist Thom Yorke’s otherworldly howls. “Glass Eyes” is a slow number featuring strings and muted piano. Acoustic guitar is joined with electronic nuances on “Desert Island Disk” and “Present Tense.” The album's deepest melody comes via “The Numbers," combining jazzy piano and folky psychedelic guitar with strong orchestration, bedded by electronic voices, noises, and effects.
A Moon Shaped Pool closes with the hauntingly beautiful and resurrected “True Love Waits," the song's first appearance in studio form. It's probably as close as fans will ever come to a Radiohead love song too. Yorke sings achingly and longingly; the song's inclusion on this album may be a reaction to the recent end of his long relationship with his partner and the mother of his two children.
Despite not tackling uncharted territory in a significant way, Radiohead has still created a work that is as fresh and innovative as almost anything the band has done in the past. A Moon Shaped Pool shows that Radiohead is an ensemble incapable of rehashing the same formula: they will always exist on contemporary music’s cutting edge.
A Moon Shaped Pool is currently available digitally and will be released on CD and vinyl LP on June 17. A special edition will be released in September.