A Moon Shaped Pool

A Moon Shaped Pool

For two decades, Radiohead’s recording career had been a seesaw between past and present—or between records that recalled its roots as a rock band, and ones that suggested the group members were actively seeking some next frontier. For 2011’s The King of Limbs, Radiohead had used sampling software to build eight amorphous songs from loops, each shifting like phantoms in the sky. But longtime producer Nigel Godrich wanted to go the other way as sessions began for Radiohead’s follow-up album. This time around, he captured the bandmates on tape as they dug into Thom Yorke’s demos for the first time. The sounds that emerged suggested a synthesis of Radiohead’s first quarter-century, with the electronic experimentation of their most iconoclastic works interlacing with the romantic surges of their earliest days. The resulting album, 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool is perhaps the most assured-sounding album of Radiohead’s existence. It’s also a record that expresses deep personal anguish and existential doubt. Yorke split from his longtime partner, Rachel Owen, as the band worked; after a battle with cancer, she would die seven months after the release of A Moon Shaped Pool. Many of these songs explore loss—not just of a relationship itself, but of the time spent in something that simply stops working: A fragile and haunted lullaby, “Daydreaming” surveys just how much our stubborn habits cost us, its tense strings slicing like a hot knife through Yorke’s mangled vocals. And during the devastating “Glass Eyes,” he takes a rare step into first-person narration, relaying the onset of a panic attack above lachrymose textures that also conjure that condition’s unsteady breaths. The album concludes with “True Love Waits”—an older Radiohead tune that fans had been bootlegging for years. A slow and balletic beauty, with piano traced by electronics so faint they suggest a whispering apparition, “True Love Waits” sends off the album with a hymn for holding on and being held in love. The sessions for A Moon Shaped Pool were so fraught, the members hesitated to discuss it—even a year after the album’s release. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore, if that’s all right,” Ed O’Brien told a reporter. “I feel like the dust hasn’t settled.” But Radiohead again rose to the moment entirely, both in those songs about the tenderest parts of our hearts, and the songs that turned outward, especially on “The Numbers.” A power-to-the-people opus for the climate-change fight, it felt like Radiohead venturing back into politics, pointing us forward. “The future is inside us,” Yorke moans through a psychedelic haze. “It’s not somewhere else.”

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