Written By Andrew Howie
Radiohead has always been a forward-thinking group of musicians. Frontman Thom Yorke (lead vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards), Jonny Greenwood (lead guitar, keyboards, other instruments), Colin Greenwood (bass), Phil Selway (drums, percussion, backing vocals), and Ed O’Brien (guitar, backing vocals) met at Abindgon School in England, and over the course of their career, they have transformed from grungy shoegaze into a mixture of contemporary classical music, downtempo electronic, space rock, psychedelic krautrock, and jazz fusion. Yorke’s ghostly falsetto and their complex subject matter combined with the band’s unique approach to the business side of their music (see the most recent example of the group erasing their digital presence and including a piece of the actual original master tape from the new album with the deluxe edition) have garnered them critical acclaim the world over, and their upcoming tour is already causing anxiety due to the number of sold out venues.
Their latest record, A Moon Shaped Pool, is everything I love about Radiohead. An intense, sweeping album, it never gets too in your face, and the juxtaposition of dark, orchestral voices with bright, optimistic melodies on tracks like “Decks Dark” and the pensive “Desert Island Disk” which features ambient sweeps behind a shifting, beautiful acoustic riff, is absolutely a joy to hear. I struggle to put a label on what it sounds like, which is one of the best things about Radiohead. The album switches gears again for the groovy “Ful Stop”, where again Yorke’s keening wail weaves in and out of the densely layered synthesizers (I would love to see that live with their LED forest stage setup).
With an album like this, reviewing it track by track is not really a just representation, because I would end up writing a full page about each individual song. Radiohead is known for their ability to move effortlessly through several styles within a single song, and that is certainly the case here. Every song is its own highlight, with its own unique sonic palette that demonstrates the wide variety of music they play without overstaying its welcome on any particular theme. It’s a very clean, clear album, with an almost rejuvenating feel to it. It’s like the soundtrack to a combination of the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet Earth, and a black-and-white art film. Moody, thoughtful, captivating, elegant.
In Radiohead’s catalog, this is another huge triumph. Their exploration of atypical styles of rock music and continued use of unique instruments like the ondes Martenot make each album a never-ending stream of left turns that delights and enthralls. There are few bands with this level of skill and dedication to innovation. A Moon Shaped Pool shows Radiohead staying the course of keeping no course and making their own music outside the conventional. Highly recommended for old and new fans. I’m currently on my second listen and I can’t wait to start it again.
Rating 9 out of 10