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Album review: Radiohead’s ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’

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Annie Zaleski

Three and a half stars

Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool

After Radiohead spent much of the ’90s and early ’00s in a state of rapid evolution, the band’s progression since has been more incremental and focused on innovations within the electronic realm. That’s changed with A Moon Shaped Pool, which is markedly different from the band’s previous album, 2011’s The King of Limbs. Gone are the latter’s marbled, frantic electro beats, replaced by plangent acoustic guitar and piano, meditative keyboard atmospherics and sweeping strings courtesy of the London Contemporary Orchestra.

“Daydreaming” is the standout example of this combination: Minimalist chimes resembling sonar radar beeps and slightly muffled piano give way to desolate orchestral washes and Thom Yorke’s pained, precise enunciation. “Identikit”—which pairs Massive Attack-like blocky rhythms and Yorke’s slurring, quasi-operatic vocal slithers—and the alien electro-jazz fusion “Ful Stop” also succeed. Yet especially on the second half of the album, A Moon Shaped Pool cries out for more urgency. The pleasant, subtle bossa nova feel of “Present Tense,” for example, doesn’t inspire much attention.

More interesting: how Radiohead twists its usual claustrophobic existential dread. Although the sharp political critique of “The Numbers” hints at revolution (“You may pour us away like soup/Like we’re pretty broken flowers/We’ll take back what is ours”), most of A Moon Shaped Pool focuses inward, on relationship disorientation and disintegration. (Yorke did split with his long-term partner in 2015, which could explain the focus.) Being unmoored leads to apathy and panic on “Glass Eyes,” while “Desert Island Disk” speaks of rebirth and how love transforms.

And although it’s tempting to be cynical that the record ends with “True Love Waits”—a song Radiohead first played live in the mid-’90s—the long-gestating studio version plays like a heartbroken elegy to a now-closed romantic chapter. Radiohead albums are often puzzles to be solved, and A Moon Shaped Pool is no exception. It’s a testament to the dense music that it also beckons listeners to shut out distractions, unplug from the chaos of everyday life and listen very, very closely.

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