Welcome to Basement Dwelling, where I review new records that should be on your musical radar. What sets Basement Dwelling apart from other music review columns is that these are all albums that are currently residing in my record collection. No promo copy was given, no stream was listened to. Instead, a physical copy of an album was purchased before I listened to it. Don’t think of me as a critic, but as a music obsessive looking to open a dialogue about some of the best tunes that are currently being released.
Let’s head down to the basement and listen to A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead…
What makes listening to a new Radiohead record always such a great experience is the amount of layers you have to unpack. Whether it’s a sonic texture you didn’t notice the first time, or a lyric that you didn’t quite catch from Thom Yorke’s sometimes garbled vocal delivery, there’s always a level of depth and greater meaning to uncover and appreciate in every Radiohead record.
The last time around, on 2011’s ode to sampling and loops, The King Of Limbs, the band proved this in a record that felt pretty skeletal but showed how much great songwriting you can get out of studio manipulation. It felt robotic, which works in the tone of that particular record. Radiohead, being masters of never making the same record twice, have switched things up again, with a record that doesn’t feel so robotic this time around. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
A Moon Shaped Pool is the most undeniably human record the band has ever made. Like most records of this ilk, the reason for this comes from a place of genuine love. A Moon Shaped Pool is actually a breakup record.
While listening to this record and paying attention to the details of the instrumentation, and most notably the lyrics of the album, I had a sneaking suspicion that what is being talked about here is what hasn’t been talked about at all in any reviews of this record or in the media in general. I’m referring to how Thom Yorke and his girlfriend of over 20 years ended their relationship this past August.
This adds a layer to their music in a way that’s never been done before. Any lazy music critic can pass this record off as Radiohead making “Sad Bastard Music.” But very few will know this comes from a place of genuine pain and leads to what is the most sensual, as well as personal, album in Radiohead’s catalog. It gives me a deeper appreciation for what I already deemed to be a stunning work of art.
A Moon Shaped Pool, while being its own entry in Radiohead’s body of work, also feels like the spiritual sequel to their 2007 record In Rainbows. Much like In Rainbows, instrumentation-wise, this is a largely piano- and string-section-based affair. If you’re looking for a record that has guitar hooks, you have come to the wrong place. If you’re looking for some of the finest mood music to be produced on a pop rock record in the last decade, then welcome aboard and enjoy your stay.
Mood is a strong element of A Moon Shaped Pool in varying degrees. From the stabbing, paranoid-sounding strings on opening track “Burn the Witch,” to the gently plucked acoustic guitar chords that lead into one of the most beautiful string arrangements I have ever listened to on album highlight “Present Tense,” this is a record that relies purely on visceral feeling that is intended to reflect on, shed tears for, or hold a loved one to.
The fact that it is so memorable and instantly re-playable truly speaks to the level of craft that is demonstrated on this album. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood needs to be mentioned while talking about craftsmanship on this album, as it’s been stated that he is the one who did most of the “heavy lifting” in terms of the composition and arrangements on this record. If this is the case, then he especially, along with his brother Colin Greenwood’s absolute killer bass grooves throughout, make this thing a masterpiece.
The five years in between The King Of Limbs and this release have proven to be well worth the wait, especially considering the leap in quality A Moon Shaped Pool enjoys on every level compared to its predecessor. Radiohead have come back full of vigor, life, and melody, which is not only a reminder of why Radiohead’s so great to begin with, but also continues to show that even after so much history, the band still has a lot to prove. If “distance is a weapon,” like Yorke sings on “Present Tense,” then this record is Radiohead shoving a dagger straight to the heart.
Final feelings on the record: Loved it.
— Dan Fiorio, Music Blogger