A Moon Shaped Pool


Some shimmering, still-in-the-process-of-forming reflections in the moon shaped pool of the new Radiohead album. If you still haven’t listened to it yet, you must be living under a moonrock.

Jonny Greenwood’s fingerprints are all over this, especially the strings. Oh, the strings. From the col legno and pizzicato flourishes of ‘Burn the Witch’, to the swooping and ducking and diving through fields of vocal shards at the end of ‘Daydreaming’, to the utterly drenched-in-strings ‘The Numbers’, there are gorgeous string arrangements all over this thing. The influence of Greenwood’s soundtracks to films like There Will Be Blood and The Master is very audible. (Both amazing films, too). And so the whole thing feels very cinematic, which is a lazy way to describe ‘rock music with string arrangements’, but in this case feels more specific than that, more appropriate.

If it’s Jonny’s album, then it’s also Nigel’s album. Nigel Godrich, the so-called ‘sixth member’ of Radiohead, has spoken of the ‘intense experience’ of working on the LP, and how ‘a large piece of his soul’ went into producing it, after he lost his father during the recording process. You can hear that emotion being poured into the sound design. The production on this thing is incredible. It just sounds so good.

If The King of Limbs was all about texture and rhythm, then A Moon Shaped Pool is all about texture and melody.

‘Burn the Witch’ followed by ‘Daydreaming’ is a very odd one-two punch of an opener. It catches me out every time. The former acts like an overture, a pulling back of the curtain. But then immediately it left-turns and becomes cold and quiet and lonely. Rather than a ‘Bends’ or a ‘Bodysnatchers’, we get something like a cross between ‘Paranoid Android’ and ‘Pyramid Song’: that is, something lengthy and ambitious but also strange and sad. It’s a brilliant bit of sequencing that sets us up for the tone of the album as a whole.

It’s a very varied LP, moving from krautrock (‘Ful Stop’) to bossa nova (‘Present Tense’) to Indian-sounding guitar (‘Desert Island Disk’), but the whole thing has a consistent mood underlying it which I’m going to call ‘soft anxiety’. (“Hey it’s me, I just got off the train…”)

One and a half minutes into ‘Decks Dark’ it sort of kicks itself up a gear. Bass and drums come in at the same time as a choir, so that the song simultaneously dives lower and soars higher. And it feels strangely soulful and funky, which before In Rainbows wouldn’t have been words that would have been associated with Radiohead, but which are perhaps the defining characteristic of their third ‘era’. (Think ‘Reckoner’, ‘Little By Little’, ‘Lotus Flower’). Then three and a half minutes in, the song just catches fire. All these tiny parts intersect, and there’s a piano that behaves like a bass hook, and it just stops making sense to me and starts making magical things happen in my ears.

‘Identikit’. ‘Identikit’. ‘Identikit’. ‘Identikit’. ‘Identikit’. ‘Identikit’. ‘Identikit’. ‘Identikit’. ‘Identikit’.

Seriously though, ‘Identikit’. For me, the highlight. The off-kilter rhythm is like a playground for all these different ideas, melodies, textures. Yorke’s vocal slips in and out of it. Listen for the subtle shift in emphasis from the line “sweet faced ones with nothing left inside” to “when I see you messing me around”: it’s the same phrasal pattern but it slips back off the rhythm slightly, and alters the whole feel of it. And then there’s that choir in the middle, with those sparkling synths underneath: just wow. I don’t think they’ve soared quite so high, so cathartically, since the climax of ‘All I Need’. It’s the sound of a band who know exactly what they’re doing, who have mastered their craft.

Is this all a bit gushing and positive? OK, well it hasn’t all clicked for me yet. ‘The Numbers’ is sonically sumptuous but I find it tonally odd: it’s the most political song, lyrically, with its strong environmental message, and yet it feels woozy and almost narcoleptic. So I don’t know whether to feel roused to action or lulled to sleep. And I don’t like the title of ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief’. Generally I like long titles, but it doesn’t fit the song, which is small and seductive. Also, where are the commas? It’s a list! It should have been called ‘Say Yes’, which would still have fit with the whole alphabetical order thing. Still, other than that, I have only effusive fanboy praise for it. It is a tremendously satisfying record, the most immediately pleasurable thing they’ve ever done. Time will tell how it compares to their others in the long run.

The vocal melody on ‘Present Tense’ is just the most beautiful flipping thing. I love it when Thom does his falsetto. And the studio version does it so much justice, surrounding it with echoes and floating it on a pillow of fluttering guitars.

The new version of ‘True Love Waits’ makes my skin turn icy. Thom’s vocal on this song is… It’s just so naked and bare and raw. Particularly the lines: “I’m not living, I’m just killing time”. I’ve been listening to this song for at least a decade, but I’d never really heard those lines before, felt the emotion in them. I imagine some will miss the guitar (the whole original chord progression has been stripped out, leaving just a simple, plaintive piano) but its absence is part of the new version’s emotional pull. Thom pleads “just don’t leave”, but it’s too late: the guitar has already gone, the album is ending, the relationship is ending.

Until we hit play again that is…









2 thoughts on “A Moon Shaped Pool

  1. Pingback: Quarterfaves: Apr-Jun – ICE•MASK•WHALE

  2. Pingback: Albums of the Year 2016 – ICE•MASK•WHALE

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