Implicit evil permeates Radiohead’s latest masterpiece, ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ [Album Review]
It is reported that Thom Yorke drew cut up phrases from a hat to compose lyrics for 2000’s groundbreaking album Kid A, and in the16 years since, it seems Yorke’s work with Radiohead has become more genuinely fractured. Where the former record was a deliberate and controlled exercise, A Moon Shaped Pool is an amorphous masterpiece.
There’s been some maddeningly well-founded speculation that this album may be Radiohead’s last work together for some time and it would be careless to dismiss the tonal references and formal choices that support that claim. Anxiety, tension, and distance eat away at the melodic foliage and a few tracks have appeared as far back as 2001 in the band’s canon.
In the five years since their last album, though, it seems a changing internal coaction has driven Radiohead’s sound into exciting new terrain as well. The group’s ninth LP is the deepest departure yet from their rock roots–more Eno than Wilco–and gone is the tension of mutual dynamism. Instead, the band’s talent pool coalesces into an ambient gel. Thom Yorke’s glittering celestial soundscapes blend seamlessly into the minimal, classicism that has defined guitarist Johnny Greenwood’s solo projects.
Pool is at once ascendant and yearning, yet rooted firmly in some primordial pitch blackness. It reads like a hand reaching upward from the depths of a murky pond. Hopeful, but how hopeful?
The piercing violin that perforates the end of advance single “Burn The Witch” undermines the optimism from track one. The schizoid symphony encourages a lump of anxiety in the pit of the stomach to solidify fully into stone. The gratingly dry strings and vocal fry that close album standout “Daydreaming” mimic the hollow snarl of a pack of salivating beasts standing above their kill.
Yet, the following track “Decks Dark” comes in like a downtempo deep cut and the first half convincingly passes for a Massive Attack b-side. “We are helpless to resist, in your darkest hour,” Yorke sings, just before the track devolves disorientingly back into darkness. “But it was just a laugh.”
The video for “Daydreaming,” directed by the inimitable Paul Thomas Anderson, is a deeply affecting accompaniment. As in the similarly unsettling video for long time stray “Burn the Witch,” the visuals explore the subtle perversion of innocuous daily activity.
In the former, York promenades like a Bauhaus Willie Nelson through parking garages and domestic scenes before taking refuge behind a sinister veil of flames in an Alpine cave. In the latter, the implicit evil that permeates the album bubbles to the surface in vibrant streams of stop motion blood.
At first listen (and second, and third), Pool is a heady melange of atmospherics and ambiance. It’s a complex work that demands careful reconsideration. Each reset starts a listener back down into a spiral of nuanced sensory experience guaranteed to elicit a visceral response at the album’s dizzying crescendo.
In the final bars of the closer “True Love Waits,” Yorke follows his dictum “I’m not living/ I’m just killing time” with a plea: “Just don’t leave.” It’s an appropriate sentiment for both a masterful LP that bears endlessly repeating and for the frontman of a band whose enigma is still being carefully teased out after decades.
“A Moon Shaped Pool” is currently available for purchase on iTunes or via the album’s website with vinyl options that and special editions that will ship in September. The album is streaming exclusively on Tidal.
- Burn The Witch
- Decks Dark
- Desert Island Disk
- Full Stop
- Glass Eyes
- The Numbers
- Present Tense
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief
- True Love Waits