“I could get lost in these pianos,” read my post. “Daydreaming” had just come out a few days ago, and a new album was slated for release a couple of days afterwards. There was no name or track listing provided. All we knew was that Radiohead was done with their new album and that it would be ready for digital distribution on Sunday at 11:00 PST.
It’s been a week since A Moon Shaped Pool was released. A week where I’ve spent struggling to do justice to an album that has stirred some energetic fanboyism inside of me. Gone are the dark times from The King of Limbs, in is the bright optimism of A Moon Shaped Pool.
So, where do I start with this review? I start with explaining what exactly it is about this album that has me gushing over it. At this point in my music listening life I’m fairly simple. I don’t like prog rock. I don’t really like electronica. I like very simple pop songs. Nothing that dares deviate too much from the verse-chorus-verse song structure. I know what I like and I know what I don’t like I don’t profess to be someone with a complex taste. What I seek in music is feeling and emotion. This is what separates my favorite albums from a great album. It’s what makes a You & Me or a Kill for Love amongst my favorite albums of all time. Albums that miss this mark are superficial. They hint and tease at deeper meaning(s) but often miss the mark. Instead, they’re cold, emotionless and empty.
This important distinction is what distinguishes albums like A Moon Shaped Pool from The King of Limbs. For all of its polyrhythmic beats and video game guitar sounds, The King of Limbs never manages to be anything other than an album limping to its forgettable status. It never managed to go any deeper than an interesting Thom Yorke solo project. For all of its curious explorations in multiple rhythm sections, the album leaves no discernible impression. Nothing that struck me more than some rather throwaway music. A Moon Shaped Pool is Radiohead taking away the characteristic “bleeps and bloops” of 16 years and stripping them down to bare acoustic bones. There’s beautiful string sections harmonizing with one another; choirs that make their triumphant return to the Radiohead catalogue; grand pianos somberly reminiscing over lost and broken love. Even the acoustic drum set makes a return in jazz-like sleepy beats.
There’s a beauty in revealing ourselves to others. It exposes us. It leaves us wide open and vulnerable. “Ripe for the taking.” It is the revelatory moment that exposes us for all of our fragility and weakness. For all of its pretty instrumentation and lush production most of this album wouldn’t be half as great if it weren’t for how deeply personal Yorke’s lyrics are. Gone is the dystopian commentary about “bunkers” or technology or whatever other Radiohead trope there is. Instead, we have hurt songs about “daydreamers never learning” or love songs about “lollipops and crisps” with pained notes asking someone to not leave.
A Moon Shaped Pool is an album about human frailty. It explores the self and makes the self deal with the consequences of our actions. It’s reminiscent on our failures. All of this introspection is supported by dreamy, lush musical arrangements. They lend themselves to deeply to a pensive state, one slowed down and focused. It guides our eyes to what is in front of our lives. What do I want? Who do I want? What exactly is it that I want to get out of this life? The album pleads the listener for introspection. It embarks the self on a journey of self-discovery, a journey where to learn from lessons learned. It’s demands the listener to listen to our surroundings and consider all that we have. It’s an album that doesn’t tiptoe around its “humanity.”
Five weird, small and odd-looking Englishmen have dropped their ninth album in the span of 24 years. It is a beautiful ninth album adding some of their best work to an already storied catalogue. Here’s to more albums.