A Moon Shaped Pool might be the best album of the year. It’s already been an incredible one, that being said, with a strong first half to 2016 that I actually almost forgot included Kanye and Kendrick Lamar amongst its releases. Poor old James Blake then, who had the unfortunate timing of releasing his new album over the same weekend that Radiohead decided to surprise us all by dropping this. Sending the internet into frenzy (again), Thom Yorke and the crew have once again shown us all not only how bloody gifted they are musically, but also why they’re so divisive in nature. To the fan, Radiohead are this centuries answer to the Beatles. To the non-believer, they’re pretentious, boring, middle aged moaners.
With all of that being said, it would be a dreadful mistake to take Yorke’s voice as anything but incredible here. It’s almost effortless how he stretches out syllables over verses, holds a falsetto so comfortably, and yet still remains an element secondary to the true brilliance of this album. It might seem like a truism to say a Radiohead album is a reflection of the band in a microcosm. But it couldn’t be more true than in A Moon Shaped Pool, an album that eschews the technological indulgence of 2011’s King of Limbs in favour of a return to roots. In a sense, we’re getting a purified Radiohead, a band that is still acutely aware of their context both musically and thematically. The genius of messrs Greenwood, O’brien, Selway and Greenwood is almost taken for granted here; it is so thoughtfully arranged, so minutely composed, that it isn’t until after multiple listens that the album truly unfolds. It’s the summation of everything Radiohead have done up to this point – shades of every album can be felt here. It might be too welcoming to assess it against the bands’ canon, but it’s difficult to judge it in terms of something that it feels like a natural constituent of. Displacing A Moon Shaped Pool from its predecessors and judging it against say, 2006’s In Rainbows, does both albums an injustice.
The first single from the album ‘Burn the Witch’ opens the album with what would be a muscular pace if it wasn’t subdued and warped by a hefty set of strings, which guide a chorus that’s both catchy and impossible to sing along to. The album follows through a surprisingly diverse collection of tracks that astoundingly seem to capture a single tone across the 52 minute run time. There’s a constant tinge of metaphor in Yorke’s lyrics here, with songs like ‘Desert Island Disk’ being the epitome of a mutual understanding between each element of the band, working in tandem to not only build, but also inhabit an atmosphere of subtle melancholy and wistfulness.
Of course, the almost overbearing influx of fandom, longform and thinkpieces will accompany this release on a level that many will argue isn’t warranted. But it’s more a testament to the power of a band that can and still continues to produce music with the power to split the press open. A Moon Shaped Pool is one of those albums thats release veers into being an event of sorts – but boy, is it an event deserving of its acclaim.By Arun Kakar