Radiohead have unveiled their ninth studio album A Moon Shaped Pool, which features the return of long-time producer Nigel Godrich. The band’s 2011 effort ‘The King of Limbs’ was a challenging album, and the new release sees the band delving even deeper into experimental territory. Extended ambient soundscapes and unconventional instrumentation abound. It’s completely uncommercial yet still encourages close attention and repeated listens.
Radiohead keep fans guessing prior to album release
Radiohead are known for unorthodox album releases and ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ was no exception. The band set the internet alight with curiosity after removing all content from their website and social media pages and then began teasing fans on Instagram. First single ‘Burn the Witch’, which is also the album opener, was the first hint of what was to come from the band. A stop-motion animated video accompanied the song. The clip bizarrely pairs images in the style of vintage children’s television with the song’s cutting violin strains and Thom Yorke’s eerie whisper/wail vocal delivery.
The album is currently available in digital form only. Preorders for vinyl and CD copies are available on Radiohead’s website and will ship from June 17. Digital copies can be ordered on the site or picked up from iTunes. Samples can be streamed on Amazon and TIDAL. Singles Burn the Witch and Daydreaming can be streamed on Spotify, but the band have refrained from offering the whole album on the service. This perhaps isn’t surprising as Yorke has previously called Spotify
“the last desperate fart of a dying corpse.”
Second single off A Moon Shaped Pool shown in theatres
Daydreaming, the second single, is also the second track on the album. It’s a rather unusual move to put the first and second single as the opening tracks. The accompanying video was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and was shown in theatres prior to the album release. It makes perfect sense that the band chose to present the song in this manner: Much of the album is reminiscent of a film soundtrack. Daydreaming is driven by a haunting piano melody and Yorke’s intimate vocals. There’s no percussion and the only instruments that come in are sparse strings and some additional synth layers. It’s telling for the album as a whole that the band decided that the second most accessible track on it was a song that completely avoided any typical pop or rock conventions.
Third track Decks Dark starts on much of the same foot as Daydreaming, but the band introduce some bass guitar and drums partway through. Having these elements absent from much of the album really accentuates when they do enter the songs. The song ramps up the attitude towards the end with a guitar and piano groove that will get your foot tapping, even though the instrumentation and feel remain unusual.
Fans will recognise certain album cuts
‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ cut Desert Island Disk was previously performed at the Pathway to Paris Yorke solo gig. The song is driven by a folky acoustic guitar pattern. The minimalist instrumentation allows Yorke’s understated vocals to shine. It’s a repeating theme on the album: Strip away the song to the core and allow the listener to focus on the essential parts. It’s one of the reasons the album is such an intriguing listen. Deep album cut The Numbers (formerly titled Silent Spring) was also performed at the aforementioned Yorke solo gig. The folky acoustic guitar appears again, but the band layer on a bluesy rhythm section, giving the song a groove-laden swagger. The blues-rock and folk elements bring to mind an experimental take on Led Zeppelin.
Sixth track Glass Eyes has one of the most arresting performances by Yorke on the album. Some of his lines are heart-achingly beautiful. His longing vocal part is accompanied by mournful strings, for which the London Contemporary Orchestra was drafted to provide.
Radiohead remain uncompromising
Radiohead’s ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ is a forward-thinking and completely uncompromising album. The fact that such an unusual album has been given such wide coverage by mainstream outlets shows that Radiohead can commands a unique place in modern music. If you’re new to Radiohead this is probably pretty unlikely to convert you. ‘The Bends’ or ‘OK Computer’ would be a much better starting point. The album will likely enchant those who enjoy listening to soundtracks, musicians looking for new sounds and those who enjoy Radiohead’s more ambient and experimental side. I wouldn’t say it’s an immediately arresting listen but it has a certain way of drawing you in and stands up very well to repeat listens.