Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool
XL Recordings (2016)
I decided to let this one sit with me for a while rather than join the frenzy of posts that appeared online hours after Radiohead dropped their 10th LP. And what a joy it’s been to sink gently into A Moon Shaped Pool, giving it space to reveal all of its charms.
In the album’s opening seconds, as those cheeky strings ignite a staccato pulse it’s obvious there’s something different going on here. Radiohead sound relaxed, less agitated and more human than they have in years. The electronic rhythms have been dulled down to make room for analogue traditions. Everything sounds live and the band itself appear refreshed because of it.
Life, as in the reality of life and living, are a constant theme throughout. In a return to The Bends era there is something very personal about this record. The band’s politics have been replaced by Thom struggling to make sense of his relationships with those around him. It’s impossible to ignore the end of his 23 year marriage and its impact on A Moon Shaped Pool.
Sonically all 11 tracks are loose and casual. Born of a band jamming together in a room and slowly uncoiling compositions from their instruments. Songs like Daydreaming, Present Tense and Glass Eyes don’t feel like they reach any conclusion per se, which isn’t a negative. Rather they’re enigmatic, haunting and spacious. Daydreaming is particularly mysterious with its lonely piano, romantic orchestral flourishes, and digital debris swirling around Thom’s sweet falsetto before flickering out in a haze of eerily slowed down voices. This is heady stuff.
Deck’s Dark has a 70s soul vibe and a hot blooded outro like you’d never expect from such a serious band. While Ful Stop (sic) channels Krautrock into a 6 minute burner which approaches its crescendo so subtly that you don’t realise where you’re at until they throw you off the bus. Identikit shuffles around a weirdo contemporary-adult take on drum n’ bass, channeling twangy guitars and sparkly synths while Thom wails about broken hearts making it rain.
For my money, A Moon Shaped Pool will go down as a classic in Radiohead’s discography. It’s chill atmosphere and warm, dreamy vibes are a comforting new direction that already feels like home every time I revisit it. And I expect to visit A Moon Shaped Pool often.