Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool - First Listen
The Oxford band’s first album in five years is out now. Here’s our initial impressions
Thom Yorke of Radiohead performs at the Barclays Center in New York, the US. File photograph: Chad Batka/The New York Times
Radiohead’s new album is finally among us. A Moon Shaped Pool is the band’s ninth studio album and lands five years after their last release, The King of Limbs.
The record was released through the band’s websiteand iTuneson Sunday evening, with physical copies set for release on June 17th through XL Recordings, with bonus tracks, 32 pages of artwork and - a beautiful touch - a piece of 1/2 inch master tape from the album’s recording sessions.
There’s no sign of the hyphen that the album title is crying out for, mind.
Here’s our first listen, track-by-track breakdown.
Track one Burn the Witch
A busy thrum of pizzicato strings and thrilling guitar growl introduces Radiohead’s new album, a defiant move that feels like they are throwing down a musical gauntlet.
“Shoot the messengers,” sings Yorke; that’s hardly likely when they are carrying work this dazzling and daring. It’s a brilliant piece of work even without the cheerfully terrifying animated video.
Track two Daydreaming
The second of two tracks trailed last week, this one has a strange ethereal beauty that winds along with almost no straightforward percussion.
The track is thick with texture and strange whirls and rotations that reveal themselves gradually. It also sets a tone for much of what’s to come.
Track three Decks Dark
This sees the band in more mainstream territory. It’s almost a straight-up rock jam, confidently grooving with just a hint of a thrown shape in its gait.
The vintage bass groove sharpens the track’s edges against a gorgeously subtle sci-fi soundscape of guitar squelches, which resonate with the band’s earlier sounds and work.
Track four Desert Island Disk
Folk acoustic rock were not words we thought we would be typing about Radiohead’s latest. But if Beyonce can mine her country roots, the Oxford outfit can certainly plough their own furrows.
This one comes off like a mellow, peyote-powered spirit quest in the desert; psychedelia is often the refuge of a band who have run out of other ideas, but this sounds more like CSN at the top of their game. Anything Bey can do …
Track Five Ful Stop
A road-running groove thrums along, steadily gathering pace before seamlessly shifting into a slick network of melodies, firing ideas and top lines out in all directions.
Then there is a drop and slow build, with a back room clubby flat snare bringing things up to another musical plateau before setting the whole thing off again.
Glorious, gorgeous and very mysterious, it’s the kind of song a Radiohead fan with a decent set of earphones could happily get lost in for hours.
Track six Glass Eyes
The somewhat chilly nature of the record is warmed here with slow movements of strings that waver and pitch beautifully with Thom Yorke’s extraordinary vocal.
Oh don’t be playing with our heartstrings now Thom, you incorrigible emotional tease.
Track seven Identikit
So much of this album is built around simple melodies or terrifically tight grooves, the back beat of Identikit being one strong example.
Things take a turn for the Portishead in the chorus (perhaps having their drummer Clive Deamer on tour with them has rubbed off on Radiohead) before a heavenly chorus takes this into fresh, unusual territory.
This is one of several songs that fans will have heard on tour, and it’s one of the most accomplished on this album, stretching its strange skittered identity across a complex, taut musical framework.
Music nerds, let the deconstruction games begin.
Track eight The Numbers
Those Laurel Canyon vibes are humming strong in this one again, with strange tambourine shivers and guitar strums that lope along like a rangy dog giving a stoned, smokey flavour to this song.
The honky tonk piano suggests the band aren’t without a sense of humour, and there is no way this should really work, but it’s all held together with a wild sense of drama that builds beautifully. Far out, man.
Track nine Present Tense
A lovely rich Latin thrum beneath plucked verses and ghostly backing vocals introduce this one.
As the song progresses, it builds a bewildering level of melodies and lines before stripping them back to make something altogether more musically slender.
Track 10 Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief
An intro that echoes more recent Radiohead work, all uneasy glitches and electro percussive flicks and punches.
The song develops into more dramatic soundtrack territory with soaring orchestrations and dreamy string lines above the crunch of the drum lines and what sounds towards the end like fireworks or gunfire far off in the distance.
Track 11 True Love Waits
Radiohead superfans might already have this one on record, from a 2001 live EP by the band called I Might Be Wrong, albeit in different form with Yorke playing guitar.
Here the gorgeous melody is plunked out on what sounds like a warm, upright piano, leaving Yorke’s vocal to carry much of the emotional weight, especially when singing “Don’t leave / True love waits / In haunted attics”.
The song doesn’t require much more to leave its mark, a strangely beautiful and more straightforwardly emotional signing-off song.
Overall, A Moon Shaped Pool is an album of textures and subtlety rather than the straight-up assault on the musical senses that was suggested by Burn the Witch.
We did not expect to get those psychedelic vibes, while Radiohead are certainly tapping into their back catalogue for many of these sounds and grooves.
There are riches aplenty on this enormously satisfying album and while it doesn’t quite break new musical territory in the manner of some of its predecessors, it’s still a thrilling ride of prodigious musical ability.