It’s not easy to describe something so perfectly beautiful. Just as I fail to describe my girlfriend, I come to a loss of words with Radiohead’s highly anticipated ninth studio album, A Moon Shaped Pool. The austere beauty of this album is something almost beyond comprehension - well, that may be an over exaggeration, but this album hits hard and sad. It’s tone is clearly sad, but it has that optimistic tinge to it that Radiohead does so well.
1) Burn The Witch - The album couldn’t have had a better intro if it tried. The opening strings and synths just bring you into the looking hole, Alice In Wonderland style. This song is actually an older one, pieces of which were teased a decade ago during the band’s live performances. The song’s symphony adds huge colors and layers to it, and is oddly invigorating in the context of the introduction track. Perhaps its the way the strings in the song like the innards of a clock coming to life and burst into action, or the badass choruses chanting “Sing a song of sixpence that goes burn the witch” that make the song sound so triumphant. It was the perfect hype-up song leading to the release of the esteemed LP9, and an even more perfect introduction to a legendary record. 9.5/10
2) Daydreaming - To describe this song in a short paragraph is like trying to write a college essay in a short and sweet thesis, and nothing more. This song is so magically and hauntingly beautiful that it stirs the emotions within you like a soup with thousands of ingredients. The somber and happy memories within you all come to fruition with this song. It won’t make you cry - it’ll do something that ultimately may be even worse: make you think. Click the link to read my full review of the track, because that’ll say a more worthy claim of my opinion than I can here. 10/10
3) Decks Dark - The first taste of brand new music from the album had you listened to the singles. ‘Decks Dark’ begins with ethereal pianos and the verse kicks in with sweet piano arpeggios. When that bass kicks in, it’ll send chills down your spine, and then the rest of the band follows suit along with a haunting choir to back Thom Yorke’s cryptic vocals. A very chill song and quite laid back, but beautiful all the same. The bittersweetness of the song inches away from the heartbreaking ‘Daydreaming’ while still provoking the thoughts the song stirred up. ‘Burn The Witch’ gets you riled up, then ‘Daydreaming’ takes everything from the deepest pores of your body. The rest of the album explores those feelings and thoughts. 9/10
4) Desert Island Disk - Things take a folky turn with ‘Desert Island Disk’, another song that has been performed live before its studio version. Beginning with a warm acoustic guitar with an almost country twang, the song explores a sense of recollection, with lyrics like “Waking up from shutdown / From a thousand years’ sleep” provoking your attention. The song is relatively simple, the synths in the meat of it flowing like waves at just the right speed to stir up the same feeling of flow within you. It’s an interesting one, to say the least. 9/10
5) Ful Stop - The introduction of this track is almost creepy. The saxophony-synths harken back to David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ and are definitely unsettling if nothing else. All of this song feels pretty Bowie-esque, even Yorke’s vocal delivery. The tonality of the line “A foul taste of medicine” especially gives a Bowie vibe. The second part of the song builds up epically, guitarist Jonny Greenwood playing something simple that just sounds so dark, on top of the wails of Yorke and huge walls of synths and bass. The bass is just so crushingly awesome, and paired with the higher guitar synth creates a haunting contrast. This song will take you to a dark place if you let it. 10/10
6) Glass Eyes - Another song that begins with absolutely gorgeous piano. ‘Glass Eyes’ is like a little brother to ‘Daydreaming’. But that brother is going through their emo phase. While the prior had a certain optimism to it, this song is just purely sad. Beautiful piano topped with stunning symphonies elevate the crushingly sad melody of vocals consisting of lyrics like ”I just got off the train / A frightening place / Their faces are concrete grey / And I'm wondering, should I turn around?” and “The path trails off / And heads down a mountain / Through the dry bush, I don't know where it leads / I don't really care”. This song is stunningly sad, and as beautiful as it is sad. And it is quite sad. 10/10
7) Identikit - Another live classic, this one has awesome guitars backing it, giving it a great live presence already. Thom Yorke really outdid himself with melodies on this record. They’re just so beautiful. The backing vocals are especially haunting. As the song progresses, the guitar gets more and more awesome, building to an absolutely epic guitar solo to close it out. The only word to describe this song: awesome. 10/10
8) The Numbers - Awesome piano paired with groovy guitar open this one. This song was formerly known as ‘Silent Spring’, yet another live song performed in the past, albeit only acoustic (during the same performance as ‘Desert Island Disk’, in fact). This song is grand on a different level than ‘Identikit’, this time bringing strings to the forefront instead of guitar. The orchestra has the epicness of ‘Burn The Witch’, the song’s epic climax falls into layers of piano that tapper off into nothingness. Awesome. 9.5/10
9) Present Tense - More live classics - this album was definitely made, in part, to be a fan pleaser. The guitar and beat is almost funky, funny enough. The stunning vocals are just sad enough to keep you from shaking your hips. The vocal melody is great and the echoing vocals add distinct color to the track, on top of the Spanish twang. This track is just general chill. As far as provoking memories goes, this one makes you feel wanderlust. You just want to get up and run somewhere listening to it. Radiohead really left no stones unturned here. 9/10
10) Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief - Now, I will admit: I copied and pasted the title of this song. The origins of this song are very clear: this tweet. The band deleted all of their media presence not for promotion, but so all of the secrets of this album couldn’t be found before it came! Jokes aside, this track feels very Kid A to me. Perhaps the splashy beats that fill the track accompanied by dreamy synths and bluesy piano. It’s kinda off putting, but in the endearing Radiohead kind of way. You can’t have Radiohead without weird. It just doesn’t work. There’s some fantastic string work on this track, too. It is admittedly a little blander than the rest of the album, but it’s still a fantastic and haunting track all the same. 8.5/10
11) True Love Waits - This song. The world may have not been ready for this song. By far the oldest track on the record (performances date back to 1995 - that’s 21 years!), this song has had decades to grow and develop. The fan-loved ‘True Love Waits’ concludes this already near-perfect album, and so beautifully so. The somber piano accompanies Thom Yorke’s desire-filled vocals. The way the piano reverberates sends the soundwaves throughout your body (which at this point of the album, should have lost all sense of emotion - you’re at the beckoning of A Moon Shaped Pool now) and Yorke’s absolutely defeated disposition in his vocals will have you choking back tears. This song plays with your heart. It almost sounds like a send off, or a goodbye. The final words of the track aren’t even pleading as they should be; they’re like a final attempt at asking for forgiveness. Nothing more than a simple cry of “Don’t leave” brings the album to a close as brilliant pianos fill into a intertwined array of emotion. If this was Radiohead’s last album, they couldn’t have ended their career on a better song. A classic becoming a sendoff. That’s almost crushingly sad in itself, isn’t it? 10/10
No one crushes your soul better than Radiohead can. A Moon Shaped Pool is a truly beautiful album. It has an overall sad tone, but it goes deeper than that. Truly absorbing it will take you on an exploration of your inner mind, an elaboration of all of your past experiences. Guilt, regret, desire, and love are just a few of the emotions that will stir within you listening to it. Radiohead may have hit their magnum opus here. If In Rainbows had brilliant orchestras and the subtle electronics of Kid A and the rock vibes of OK Computer, you’d have this album. Perfection is the easy way to describe it. My girlfriend is perfection, so that’s where my standard lies (pretty high). But this album comes close to that. Pure emotion is beautiful in any form, and that’s what comes out with it. A Moon Shaped Pool is a classic, and will never lose that magic touch.
Favorite Tracks: True Love Waits, Daydreaming, Identikit, Glass Eyes, Ful Stop
Least Favorite Tracks: Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief