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CD of The Week

Week of 5/16/16

    Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool (XL Recordings)

    Unless you've been living under an Internet-free rock for the last week, you're well aware that Radiohead's anticipated ninth album A Moon Shaped Pool was released on Mother's Day. After a few days' gradual buildup, the record's title, track list and artwork all were unveiled at the same time as the music. While the band has tinkered with the traditional album release for years (sorry Beyhive, Radiohead did it firstā?¦), these tactics have often overshadowed the music. So let's focus on what really matters here: the 11 songs that make up A Moon Shaped Pool.

    The album pulls from various eras of the band, both sonically and songwriting-wise. Radiohead has famously revised and revisited old material over the years and the majority of these songs have been built out of tunes that die-hard fans have been aware of for some time.

    This includes album opener 'Burn the Witch,' the lead single that is defined by Jonny Greenwood's puncturing string arrangements. Thom Yorke's warnings against fearmongering are quite timely in this year of Trump. The notable lyric about 'a low flying panic attack' could best describe much of the album itself. Instead of swinging for the fences, their fears are kept close to the ground throughout.

    'Daydreaming' isn't far from previous piano ruminations such as 'Pyramid Song' or 'Sail to the Moon,' but then its final moments devolve into a blur of nightmarish, unidentifiable animalistic sounds. Album highlight 'Identikit' debuted on their 2012 tour and drummer Phil Selway's nimble rhythms are straight off their last album. The King of Limbs. Yorke has sung an awful lot about rain over the years and with its chorus of 'Broken hearts make it rain,' 'Identikit' has one of the most direct moments on the whole album. The track then wraps up with a spindly guitar solo or at least the closest thing to a solo on A Moon Shaped Pool. Elsewhere, 'Desert Island Disk' features some folk rock guitar picking that you've never heard on a Radiohead song before.

    And then there's 'True Love Waits' ' a longtime fan favorite that has appeared in their live sets for two decades (!). The band famously could never get a studio version recorded that they were satisfied with, but did release it on the 2001 live album I Might Be Wrong. On AMSP, the song essentially stays intact but has changed from a sad, strumming tune to a stark piano lament. Yorke's final line of 'Don't leave' is given more weight and sadness than ever.

    As gorgeous as A Moon Shaped Pool sounds, it has very few songs that truly stay with you. We're miles away from Jonny's iconic *ch-chunk* guitar part in 'Creep' at this point. Additionally, Yorke's increasing reliance on singing in his highest register while bathed in echo often renders his vocals both ethereal and indecipherable.

    With its gorgeous strings and delicate songs, A Moon Shaped Pool is definitely a 'headphones' record, where you must listen closely to hear every layer. If only more of these lovely tunes stuck once you get out of the pool.
    Review by Joey O.

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