Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool by Kenneth "WinD" Spaziani
RADIOHEAD / A MOON SHAPED POOL // REVIEW //
2016-05-09 / 11:18:15 AM / EDT /
By Kenneth WinD Spaziani of // Accelerated Evolution //
nine years after Radiohead gifted In Rainbows on unsuspecting fans in 2007, their seismic, no-label, price point-be-damned surprise release has been co-opted by an exhaustive number of major label artists. This year alone has seen pop royalty like Kanye, Rihanna and Beyoncé springing albums on their fans, and in the past 48 hours James Blake and Death Grips have also unleashed new albums. Radiohead's ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool, popped into view a few hours ago and for a band that once pleaded for "no surprises," Pool's most thrilling surprise isn't its Mother's Day release, but that Radiohead's least rock-oriented album in the 21st century doubles as its most gorgeous and desolate album to date.
2006, Myself on Lead Vocals and Bass Guitar eyes closed belching a falsetto of "For a minute there, I lost myself, I lost my self. Phew.... for a Minute there I lost myself I lost myself" while auditioning for our slot at POPS. My two dear freinds Mike Cipressi (Lead Guitar) and Michael Hirth (Grand Piano - Lead Vocals on Verses / Harmony). As we rocked a solid cover of 1997's OK COMPUTER single "Karma Police". Not so long after I ended up losing myself to the 2007 Release of IN RAINBOWS, an album I dubbed to be the Album of the Year for 2007 and Radiohead's finest achievement. Certain mental states had to be explored while listening to that album to attempt to dissect the inner workings and get a greater understanding. Despite the long effort and flat out enjoyment of these mental states while looping the album for nearly a year... It became a classic for my collection.
I flash forward to living in Florida, having my own rather large townhouse for the first time. A sense of Liberation and accomplishment, along with all of that responsibility nonsense. every week or so I'd google to see if a new Radiohead album had surfaced in the news - I wanted to hear how they could expand after In Rainbows - This was necessary to my musical life and existance - Yes I am serious - Just as sudden as A Moon Shaped Pool had dropped without any warning as life had me 24/7 busy; Radiohead's The King of Limbs was released. The single was Lotus Flower which I found to be a rather addictive single. A dance-a-ble single (and yes it was grooved in public quite often in Winter Park Florida Night Life). Excited I requested a review copy and received the album.
I was let down initially. "Little By Little" and "Lotus Flower" stood out immediately after one or two listens as the strongest tracks. I silenced my dissapointment that Radiohead did not build on IN RAINBOWS seemingly on the brink of exploring uncharted territory. I remembered that after OK Computer the Progressive Rock Masterclass of the "Commercial" bands... and arguably the /ONLY/ Progressive Rock release by a commercial band in the 90's. critically acclaimed classic was followed with the absolute most unnerving expectations as an artist. Rather than attempt to expand on the ideas, Thom Yorke and the band released a rather minimalistic Electronic (90% of the album aside from the organic drumming - which often was Electronic Drums / Triggers on the regular kit to get specific Synthesized Sounds). Once I looked at The King of Limbs in that context I treated my approach differently and as I spun the LP more... surely enough it grew to be another "Brilliant piece of original work" It has minimalistic brilliances and some textures of sound that are intended to be less commercially viable - It's art, Music is expression and exploration. I got off my high-horse from In Rainbows and back to my own two feet from that point forward with expectations and understanding the end result of any album, film or video game that followed either a masterclass work prior or a lack of hype leading up to the release.
- Mothers Day 2016 - 5-8-2016 -
I am listening to Harry Nilsson on Tidal, when I go over to listen to "Creep" by my mothers request.. and it was Mother's Day - she digs that song, so I played it and oddly found two other songs not on the official Radiohead LP or EP list on Tidal - a few hours later I came back to re-listen and found BOOM a new album had been released. What did this mean as a musician and music journalist? I needed to ground myself, not look at the greatest work of Radiohead going in for expectations but rather for reflections after - and to prepare myself for a ride I had waited since 2011 for. *note 5 years is not too awful of a wait at all* - ** Two summers ago (2014) I went to Connecticon cosplayed as Thom Yorke in the Lotus Flower Music Video.
- The Review that is shorter than the nonsense leading up to the actual review -
I personally have exceptionally intense panic attacks and anxiety, I am very open about using prescription medication to aid my day to day with this Anxiety and Panic Disorder that stemmed after a few rather unnerving events that had occured to me both times while I was on the absolute top of my "game" in terms of life at that moment. Music is the escape from what I never had an issue with prior; being in places with thousands of people; while this does not bother me /that much/ often it will cause a brisk pace or a few drops of sweat... a few times panic attacks have occured. Being a regular to The Mohegan Sun casino both for concerts and for gambling I am no stranger to absolutely no rythem in chaotic chatter and thousands of slot machines all hitting various sounds on que in an abstract cacophony.
Where am I going with this?
Every morning I take my Xanax and Klonopin in prevention of a potential panic attack. It is a calming prescription medication, for that reason a very dangerous one. One of the more addictive substances we currently have prescribed; and the deadliest in terms of withdrawal (along with alcohol although with Xanax / Klonopin only a month of prescribed "medium high" dosages could cause seizure or death if you suddenly stop. SOUNDS REALLY PLEASENT WIND! Well the point I am getting at; I woke up this morning to put away the anxiety I was feeling for various eSports related pressures, business deals or hell even my own expectations of the album. I took the benzo's and spun the album. One of the first lines you will hear is related to all of this... "low-flying panic attack". Radiohead has always had dabbled in using clever ways to display personal issues into abstract themes for songs, research displays that Thom Yorke is very much in the same boat I am when it comes to this morning routine. Nothing wrong with medication as we need it - but when it comes to stopping what we fear... a panic attack. We both end up utilizing the risk reward practice of medicating to prevent. So a bit EUPHORIC and CALM I resonate on that line "A low-flying panic attack" with the swagger it is sung, a puncutation to the analogy. the effect of "Burn the Witch" is remarkable. From its steady chug of drum machine, strummed acoustic guitars and the clacking col legno of the string section, "Witch" ratchets up that "low-flying panic attack" until its soaring high at the climax.
Is anyone really happy? Is anyone really Safe? Is anyone Really successful? What do you Fear? What do you use as a crutch? What are you guilty of having said or done that may haunt you even in the slightest?
We are not happy people in general. The populous at large loves being depressed - we love Melancholy. Radiohead fuels off of melancholy as melancholy often becomes beauty. For gaming examples take a look at The Witcher universe it is dark, depressing, damn near hopeless yet... in all of that negative world we have a "hero" whom is not that enthusiastic about what he is doing in the first place thus is not a "hero". he is just a guy doing his job, and usually not that happy about doing so. It's a bleak world, with bleak characters yet so many reviewers applauded it's realistic approach to characters, story, setting and themes... These themes are in our everday life and for far too long video games have attempted to take us to Happy Land rather than soak in the BEAUTY of an altered reality in a different setting... due to it being based off of how we perceive life ourselves with choices that force us to feel guilty or down right awful at every corner - it resonates because our choice matters giving the idea that just as in real life - we cannot make heroic decisions with our dialogue or actions, we are like Geralt of Rivia minus the bad-assery. We are in a world of corrupt rulers, poverty - melancholy - Yet... The Witcher 3 is Beautiful. Dark Souls III is Beautiful. Dawn of War III's trailer - Beautiful despite being that of inevitable death in an endless war... We find beauty in these games (and countless others I could not just rattle off) due to how we may struggle to find beauty in life at times while relating to the fact that these games take aspects of each of our lives and spin them into an interactive format.
When we have Melancholy in music it was often casted off as "Depressing Music" "Angst" "Grunge" "Emo (but I am not counting that genre; I do not feel it actually applies to Beauty in Melancholy" - Progressive Death Metal acts like Opeth or Dir En Grey display hopelessness with a crushing brutality along with a slow dirge of... "Beauty" "Truth" "Life". Back to why this is relevant to Radiohead and A MOON SHAPED POOL. Without having a singular track that is upbeat in tempo or lyrical theme it follows the same pattern that Radiohead has used over the past 5 albums of that dark brooding genuine feeling you get while listening. While of the past 5 albums some of them have had moments of swinging drums with groovy bass-lines that make it 'dance-able' as I brought up above - but when you realize you are dancing to a song that is rather dark and thematically / lyrically depressing as hell... That is when you can state we live a bleak existance. It is not to say that we do not all enjoy ourselves and have countless examples of pure joy or elation - it is the overall theme of our lives I am referring to. Radiohead has always been a band to nail that feeling. The highest praise I can state after that sentence is that A Moon Shaped Pool is the most cohesive Radiohead album thematically since prior to In Rainbows, by doing so it does not come off as bland or un-inspiring intellectually. To those who may be turned off during the 1st or 2nd spin of the album; do not be discouraged by what for you may just be the odd feeling when you /know anxiety/ of a "Low scale Panic attack". Embace the Low Scale Panic Attack and you will find a new classic.
"But what makes it a classic aside from being thematically coheseive equal to the near perfect lyrical and music arrangement that fits this theme" (well that question states high praise in itself)
A Moon Shaped Pool is noticeably different to its predecessor, 2011’s patchy The King of Limbs. You’d hesitate to call it more poppy (although when it comes to the POPPY PLANT yes, it is a bit more "opium-esque")– this is still an album on which standard verse-chorus structures are very much subject to subsidence, and on which the instruments buried deep in the mix frequently seem to be playing an entirely different song to those in the foreground – but it’s certainly sharper and more focused. These layers of complexity to each song are not as mind blowing as decyphering Nine Inch Nails classic LP's 'The Downward Spiral' or the double disc 'The Fragile' then again this is in a different approach. Sonic textures of synthesizers, guitar notes and chords ran through various VST and Hardware to warp into different instrumental sounds some that do not /sound/ instrumental of what we would expect from any known instrument. It is a very "Spacey" album - while being jammed with constant and consistant "Stay Awhile, and Listen!" moments from the moment the LP begins until the milisecond that it ends. A lot of the Progessive Rock themes we heard in 1997's OK Computer are still around in Radiohead's Music - They are just now transported into a more artsy approach. Perhaps the better wording would be 'avant-garde' approach by placing these Prog Rock elements in each song masking them to most listeners who are not "Knowledged in Music" may just sound like filling 'pads or waves' filling out a song. It is far more complex than that.
Artistically at least, these are supposed to be thin times for rock music, particularly rock of the stadium-filling variety. The really important, epochal, provocative stuff – the music that, to use a ghastly phrase, carries the conversation – is clearly happening in hip hop and R&B. With one exception: alone among their commercial peers, Radiohead are held to not just release albums but make grand artistic statements worth dissecting and poring over in the same way as the output of Kendrick Lamar or Beyonce. Certainly, no one’s falling over themselves to decode the politics of Miley Cyrus’s releases, or Taylor Swifts releases (aside from Ryan Adams who brilliantly re-recorded Swifts newest release and turned it into a more realstic and beautiful album that felt in tune with "reality" rather than an "MTV Cash Fantasy" even worse in that example... Swift is using bubblegum pop antics of the 80's while riding that MTV Cash Fantasy to the mainsteam girls of the world. Ryan Adams displayed it as bleak and brilliant in his reconstruction (which actually is my favorite release of 2015; Ryan Adams - 1989 )
There’s nothing as slippery and unclear as King Of Limbs’ Bloom or Feral. They seem as fascinated by sonic textures as they do by actual songwriting – the weirdly uplifting moment towards the end of Ful Stop (sic), when the song’s muffled sound suddenly becomes bright and trebly, as if a DJ has turned the eq knob on his mixer to the right – but it’s not an album that feels lost in experimentation. The abundance of sonic intrigue is matched by the quantity of beautiful tunes: the fact that True Love Waits, a track that dates back to the less knotty era of their 1995 album 'The Bends', fits perfectly in the line-up of songs tells you something about their unabashed melodic richness - Rich Melancholy.
From the elegant piano line of "Decks Dark" to the nimble finger-picking of "Desert Island Disk" and "Present Tense," Radiohead's long-standing embrace of edgy electronics has now been supplanted by an embrace of gorgeous timbres and melody, the more disarming the better. And while electronic effects and the like are still present (hear how they move like an ocean current underneath "Desert Island Disk"), most songs forgo the crunching, dueling electric guitars of Greenwood and Ed O'Brien and Selway's hard-hitting drums to instead foreground acoustic guitar, piano and strings. If anything, A Moon Shaped Pool reveals within Radiohead a newfound appreciation of, if not folk music, then the form's ability to express melancholy through their melodies.
A pall hangs over the album like a highland fog, which mirrors the theme of heartbreak that runs through Pool. the track "Daydreaming "which the band hired director P.T. Anderson – released to a handful of movie theaters in 35mm format is the chosen title that perhaps captures the album's mood best.
Haunting, pensive, unable to shake loose from its revery and doldrums – from the "broken hearts make it rain" refrain of "Identikit" (the most uptempo song on the album) to the "panic is coming on strong/so cold, from the inside out" that Yorke confesses to on the murky ballad "Glass Eyes" – the album conveys great sorrow and heartbreak. The latter comes at the midway point of the album, wherein Yorke's minor-key piano moves with Jonny Greenwood's scored strings to heart-rending effect. While Greenwood has flashed Penderecki and Ligeti moves in deploying orchestration to heighten anxious states (from "How to Disappear Completely" to his soundtrack work on There Will Be Blood), here the strings swaddle Yorke's forlorn vocals with a mix of sadness and beauty. The downward spirals (yes I referenced NiN as a play on words) at the end of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor, Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief" is one of the band's most melancholic moments on record. --- THAT IS SAYING ALOT ---
It all leads to Pool's striking conclusion, "True Love Waits," a song so old it could legally order a pint. The white whale in the Radiohead discography, it began to appear in live sets circa The Bends but has never aptly been recorded, save in live versions. For longtime Radiohead fans, it's worth the wait. One can only guess at how this love song of gentleness and intimacy reads two decades later, but the effect is like stumbling upon an old love letter years after a relationship has grown cold. Where there was once a hint of redemption in its devastating refrain, "Just don't leave" now sounds like the longest (and saddest) goodbye.
A goodbye that will be as devestating each spin that I have with the LP over the years. For that is what great music does to fans like myself. It pulls us in and has us re-listen for every detail alongside the love of the material. Appreciating the entire work always; I never listen to singular songs when "Listening to Music" I always listen to an album start to finish. I need to know wether or not that artist is investing in a full experience from start to finish that perhaps started with 'Pet Sounds' of bands now needing to not just release a hit - but release an album that from start to finish is a grown HIT as a whole. which is far more stronger - and in both Pet Sounds and A moon Shaped Pool, that HIT is stronger due to the full experience.
Whenever you listen to this album or ANY album (even ones that have throw-away songs to cash in) listen to the whole album. Judge an artist based on what they deliver over the entire LP not just 3-6 minutes. Radiohead's Delivery while... (I just realized I put Pet Sounds in the same sentence as A Moon Shaped Pool which will lead people to believe I am making a statement that this is Radiohead's Pet Sounds) NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO
DO NOT PUT WORDS IN MY MOUTH
NO. Okay. NO.
- To Reitiarate. NO THIS ALBUM IS IN NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM ON THE LEVEL OF PET SOUNDS NOR AM I CLAIMING IT TO BE. With that stated - As a full listen this album is a hauntingly gorgeous dirge of beauty. Melancholy in art is always beautiful. For Accelerated Evolution this is CEO Kenneth "WinD" Spaziani - giving this pleasent gift of an album on mothers day a rather 95/100 review score. Which... deservingly earns a Rating: 9.5/10
Yes after listening I shouted "WIND0WNED" inside. then I opened a window and shouted it to the outside.