Review: ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’ Is Radiohead’s Most Unique Album Yet
With the release of their ninth studio album A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead continues to produce stunning, out-of-this-world compositions that blur the boundaries between rock music and art.
The album, released for download on May 8, features the band’s original electronic style, simple beats and falsetto vocals, while at the same time infusing orchestral instruments and experimental ambient sounds. In some ways, this album stays true to Radiohead’s well-known, relaxed approach to rock. On the other hand, I can say without a doubt that I’ve never heard anything like it.
The album includes 11 songs that are fairly unique from one another, yet flow incredibly well together. Unlike their other albums, these songs showcase a much more soulful side of lead singer Thom Yorke’s voice, as well as an emphasis on string instruments and sounds reminiscent of nature.
The sound on this album ranges from soft, monotonous piano and intense violin to white noise and the hums of outer space. Natural noises mix with smooth, drawn-out vocals and electronic vibes, simulating the various sounds of everyday life.
In keeping with Radiohead’s distinctive style, songs like Burn the Witch, Identikit and Ful Stop retain the unmistakable, upbeat rhythm present in their older songs. The most popular of the three, Burn the Witch is the most lively song on the album, and consists entirely of eerily sharp strings, a heavy beat, and Yorke’s beautifully flowing falsetto voice. The song appears to be a social commentary on the practice of shaming others, and the vileness of mob mentality, as it repeats lyrics like “abandon all reason…burn the witch.”
Identikit seems to be the song most similar to their older albums with its experimental electronic sound and a beat comparable to their 2007 song 15 Step. It’s also one of the only songs on the album that has a clear vocal pattern, rather than an erratic gushing of words with no apparent tune.
Ful Stop has a more hectic electric sound and haunting, less diverse vocals, almost as if Yorke is talking. I found this song chilling; it was one of the more intense songs on the album.
Of all the things that may have inspired the band to come up with these songs, it’s undeniable that nature played a large role. The sounds of Earth and outer space are especially present in Decks Dark, Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief, and The Numbers.
Using an ambience that sounds like a running stream of water, Decks Dark is like a poem turned song, with a focus on Yorke’s soft vocals. Interestingly, the song ends with heavy electric sounds evocative of the city.
In Tinker Tailor, white noise is used in place of a beat, paired with electronic vibes and powerful, discordant strings, giving a sci-fi feel to the song.
In contrast, The Numbers is a tranquil, earthy melody that blends Yorke’s graceful, wandering voice with strong, dark strings. This song sounds similar to the style of Icelandic rock band Sigur Ros, whose foremost inspiration is the beauty of nature.
Three songs struck me as the most exceptional and stunning of the album. Desert Island Disk has a Midwestern sound, and features a simple, pleasant acoustic guitar riff and strong, concrete vocals. The style reminds me of artist Jose Gonzalez, and was an unexpected gem in the amalgam of dreamy, ethereal sounds.
Glass Eyes was another instant favorite — its passionate strings and piano with Yorke’s soft vocals form a sort of musical poem that really makes you feel something. The only thing I disliked about this song was its short length.
My favorite song of the album, True Love Waits, centers on Yorke’s soulful, heartbreaking voice, accompanied by a complex, lovely piano composition. The song was written in 2001, but not released until now, which explains why it sounds similar to the vocal style of older songs like Fake Plastic Trees and No Surprises.
The brilliant, never-before-explored ideas present in this album left me desperately wanting to hear more. A Moon Shaped Pool’s unorthodox and otherworldly sound may not be for everyone, but is a must-listen for all indie fans and art rock enthusiasts.