Radiohead is a band that doesn't need any kind of big introduction. Founded in the mid-80s, this british art rock band catapulted itself into the annals of rock history when it released its third album OK Computer in 1995. An album that would not only capture the essence of the 90s in musical form, but also become a huge success with both critics and fans. Even today, OK Computer is regarded as one of the most important rock albums of the 20th century, finding mentions in numerous "Greatest Albums of All Time" and "Albums You Should Listen to Before You Die" Lists.
The band continued to build their reputation as one of the biggest acts in the genre with the release of albums like Kid A in the early 2000s, on which Radiohead explored a sound that was saturared with electronic elements, followed by what can mostly be considered a middle-ground on albums like Hail to the Thief before going back to much more instrument-focussed style of rock on In Rainbows in 2007, an album that very much captured the sound of 2000s indie rock and fused it with dream-pop elements on tracks like Nude and All I Need.
After releasing their perhaps most polarizing album The King of Limbs in 2011 it became rather quiet around the band as it entered a brief hiatus.
The eagerly awaited LP9, as it was called, was announced rather suddenly on the 8th of May together with the release of a video for Daydreaming, the second single off of the upcoming album, which was revealed to be called A Moon Shaped Pool.
Preceding that, was the release of a video for Burn the Witch, the first new Radiohead single since the Bond-movie song composed by the band that went unused, but not unreleased. Burn the Witch held my expectations for the album at bay, since I wasn't quite getting the feel from it that I would've liked to get. Despite the detailed textures and often praised chord progressions on the song, it just wouldn't click with me and it still doesn't, making it one of the few weak tracks on this album for me, which I'm going to go into later on.
My first impression of A Moon Shaped Pool was comparatively sobering and it took a handful of listens for me to really warm up to the soft melancholy and composed attitude of this album.
Radiohead ended up releasing a very introspective and rather reserved album, that doesn't try to be flashy, but rather gets closer to the listener for an intimate eye-to-eye, or rather ear-to-ear, in this case. There are some parts of this album that end up being a bit grander or more "on-fire" than the rest, but they tend to be rather scarcely placed.
Examples for that would be the increasingly dissonant growing strings at the end of Burn the Witch or the urgent, energetic beat and bass on Ful Stop, the latter being one of my favorite tracks on this album. Despite my initial coldness towards much of this album, I was instantly taken by the underlying tension built by the strong beat and ominous synths on this track as well as the kind of huffy vocals and lyrics on Yorke's end as he sings about someone "messing up everything" and drinking "foul tasting medicine". Ful Stop also features session drummer Clive Deamer, who already supported Radiohead on live performances of The King of Limbs.
Another one of the more lively tracks off of this album is Identitikit, a song that features nicely layered, crisp guitars and drums against dreamy and, in parts, distant layers of Thom Yorke's vocals. The track keeps swelling as Yorke repeatedly chants two lines that later get picked up by the choir of the London Contemporary Orchester that joined Radiohead for this album.
However, as I mentioned before, this album mostly features rather reserved tracks, one of which is Present Tense, a soft piece towards the back end of the album that features influences of latin music and more wonderful choir vocals in the dreamy second half of the song.
Radiohead did a really good job of utilizing the additional resources at hand this time, in my opinion. I just love how they implemented the choir vocals into their tracks, creating hauntingly beautiful songs like Decks Dark, the third track on the album, that begins as a soft piano piece over an electronic beat and starts to take offn as more instruments chime in, elevating the song into this really mysterious ballad as Yorke presents the really evocative lyrics, singing of a spacecraft loudly descending on earth and "blocking out the sky".
Not every track on this album is as ambiguous in meaning though. Glass Eyes, for instance, has Yorke singing about the feeling of alienation and anxiety he feels at a trainstation and how he wants to detach himself from society in this really melancholic voice, accompanied by soft piano notes and beautiful string arrangements that make this one of the most emotional pieces on this record.
My favorite songs on this album, however, are the second single to be released off of it, Daydreaming, and the album closer True Love Waits.
Daydreaming is another piano-focussed piece, rich with detailed electronic elements in the background and snippets of reversed vocals coming in here and there. I really like the mysterious atmosphere of this track and how it is contrasted by the very sober, realistic and confronting feeling that it gives off as it grows increasingly restless with the strings cutting in shortly before the song ends with these really unsettling reversed string sections.
True Love Waits brings this album to a close and does so in a quite saddening way, as Yorke sings about a relationship in which one person desperately tries to keep the other one from leaving and how this person is just "killing time" and "not living anymore" as true love waits in another place. All of this against a backdrop of very introspective and soft piano notes that get joined by more layers of notes that start to kind of drizzle in later into the track make this a really bittersweet closer to A Moon Shaped Pool.
Overall, I came to be very pleased with this album after I surmounted my initial apathy towards it and discovered all the qualities and little details of this record. I really like how this record doesn't try to be flashy or grand when it features strings and choir vocals and how Radiohead fused those with numerous influences and electronical elements, coming through with a very melancholic, but also dreamy and mysterious album that presents itself in a very non-intrusive and gentle way.
I do have to say though, that despite all of my praise for some of the tracks on this album, not all of it ended up really resonating with me. No matter how many times I listened through this record, songs like Tinker Tailor or The Numbers just struck me as kind of unremarkable and failed to really leave an impression on me.
Aside from that, however, my impression of this album is ultimately very positive and I really like how it turned out.