Radiohead’s 'A Moon Shaped Pool' Is Often Cinematic, Warm and Gentle

The band's newest album doesn't disappoint.

— -- ****1/2

Don't let the drive of lead-single "Burn the Witch" fool you. The majority of Radiohead’s ninth album, "A Moon Shaped Pool" is quiet and ethereal in its tone, anchored by pianos and acoustic guitars. Of their latter-day work, this is definitely among their clearest and most song-based releases. Meaning this is more than a mere mood-piece.

Like 2007's "In Rainbows," this album offers up a somewhat equal balance for fans of both the early, rock-based masterpieces and their post-"Kid A" work. In fact fans who dismissed them after "Kid A" should give this album a listen. (Personally, I find "Kid A" brilliant, but I understand why the band's sudden transformation in 2000 was polarizing for some. There are times I really miss the kind of laser-sharp, hard-guitar assaults that populated "Pablo Honey" and “The Bends.”)

This album is mostly populated with cuts that should be familiar to hardcore fans. Many of these songs have been part of their live sets in the past. We even get a serene studio version of "True Love Waits," which appeared on their 2001 live album, "I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings."

There is something strikingly fragile, yet cinematic about large portions of this record, from the warm, reflective nature of "Daydreaming," to the acoustic "Desert Island Disk," which simultaneously recalls both their previous stripped-down cover of Portishead’s "The Rip" and "Pink Moon"-era Nick Drake. Later in the set, "Present Tense," takes a similar tone, only it has a slight Latin tinge.

Thom Yorke spends the bulk of this record singing at a hushed, intimate near-whisper. Every now and then the vocal-sampling and looping technique first used in the "Kid A" opener, "Everything In Its Right Place" pops up, but the effect is never over-used.

This album also recalls "OK Computer" in some small ways, as well. A lot of these songs share the gentle swell and orchestral quality of "Exit Music (For A Film)." Yet the subtle electro tone of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief" sounds a bit like something that could have been on "Amnesiac."

As I previously indicated, many of these compositions have been lying around a while, so it isn't surprising that this record sounds like a summary of the band's career. It is safe to say that this album will not disappoint longtime fans.

The album's track are listed alphabetically and yet it really flows well as a record, thus meaning that every step here is unquestionably deliberate. This is an intricate set of songs full of tiny details. It's the kind of record you need to examine closely. If it doesn't grab you right away, it will. When I first heard "Daydreaming" on Friday, I wasn't sure about it. After hearing it a few more times, it has deeply sunken into my subconscious.

There has never been a Radiohead album that was less than stellar. Each one of their offerings has been on the cutting edge to slightly varying degrees. "A Moon Shaped Pool" proudly continues that tradition. Like the rest of their discography, it should gain fans for decades to come.

Focus Tracks:

"Daydreaming" It is fitting that this expansive six-minute piano-ballad would get a video directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Thom Yorke sounds mournfully tormented here, but at the same time this song is welcoming and quite enveloping. This comes off like a less cryptic cousin of "Pyramid Song," from "Amnesiac."

"Identikit" This has a subtle rock energy simmering just below the surface. It keeps pretty low-key until the chorus. Yorke harmonizes with himself angelically while Philip Selway's drumming maintains a strong beat. There's also some really nice synth work going on at the track's apex.

"Full Stop" This track offers the album's most alien moments, as it summons a sinister rumble, while playing with a bit of digitized cacophony. At its core, though, it plays like an ominous Henry Mancini movie theme getting a dystopian club remix. (That is, if Mancini wrote songs about "foul-tasting medicine.") At the end, it gets a subtle laser-sound attack. (Is that voice number 73 on the Casio CTK-515? I have that keyboard! It's a very similar sound.) Anyway, this is Radiohead working at their most complexly dizzying best.

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