A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead: The Art of Ambience

Album review of A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead

I’ve never been a huge fan of Radiohead. Hearing “Creep” and “HIgh and Dry” on the radio once in a while has pretty much summed up my listening experience with them thus far. But when “Guitar World”, a publication that I respect very much declared “A Moon Shaped Pool” the best alternative album of 2016, I figured I owed it to myself, as a lover of music, and as a guitarist, to give it a listen.

The album gets off to a rather interesting start with the politically charged “Burn The Witch”. It uses a constant rhythmic string part to give the song a quick beat, in the absence of heavy drums. This song, like most of the songs on the album, is extremely surreal, sounding like the part of any given movie where a character is intoxicated, disoriented, or half asleep. Many describe Radiohead’s work as dreamlike; with the minor intonation, echoing vocals, and the crescendoing cacophony at the song’s end — that seems to envelop the listener in a flurry of sound — “Burn the Witch” is more of a nightmare.

“The Numbers” is similarly creepy, this time with an odd sound collage at the songs beginning, and end, featuring such random noises as jingle bells, strange laughter, and a weird ringing noise that makes you think you are going deaf. The middle of the song is pretty strong, and the orchestra comes on with deep foreboding syncopation, before the song fades back into a rambling piano part, and that odd, odd, collection of sounds.

My favorite song on the album is Identikit, which in all fairness is the most “rockiest” it ever gets. There are some pretty upbeat rimshots at the song’s beginning. There is the usual muffled and echoey vocalization, and then suddenly, the synthesizer comes in playing a chorale of sorts, and a chorus repeats “broken hearts, make it rain”. A super trebley staccato guitar part comes in (this is interesting to listen to) and then launches into an excellent solo, (this is awesome to listen to!). I’ll be honest, I didn’t enjoy most of the album, but when I listened to this song, my jaw all but dropped.

As for my lack of enjoyment? that does not in any way make this a bad review. Even though I don’t really like the sounds of “Moon Shaped Pool”, I have to appreciate the effort, and talent involved. Radiohead, are sonic pioneers, experimental is what they do, and to see them resort to mainstream would be kind of sad. This is not an album for all music listeners, rather, it is for those who enjoy Radiohead’s brand of strange. I remember my disappointment with Coldplay’s “Ghost Stories” (they did a song with Avicii for goodness sakes) and understand why it is so important for a band to stay true to who they are. So with all that said, despite the fact that “A Moon Shaped Pool” will not make my favorites list, I must applaud Thom Yorke and company for their persistent loyalty.

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2 Responses

  1. Like you, I was never a huge follower of Radiohead, though I liked the song’s I’d heard. But I love “A Moon Shaped Pool.” I find it hauntingly beautiful and captivating.

  2. Adam Harkus says:

    Thanks for reading. Credit for the article goes to criticoptimist.com. over to you Ned?

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