Recommend if you like: Radiohead. If you don’t know if you like Radiohead, go listen to Radiohead.
Expectation: One of the biggest rock bands of the 90’s who became one of the most critically-beloved, musically-adventurous bands ever to survive in the mainstream with the release of Kid A and In Rainbows, and have generally been considered living legends (or pretentious weirdos, depending on who you ask) for over a decade. A Moon Shaped Pool is a Radiohead record, so no matter what choices they make sonically, one expectation holds true: there will be sad, somber rock music at the core of most of it.
- Burn the Witch – The lead single and opening track is a fairly interesting song, propelled by a sharp string section and synthetic drum beat, with a droning, bassy synth underneath. Thom Yorke sings the same kind of melody he’s been singing for the last decade, but it still works.
- Daydreaming – A dreary, meditative track, full of slow builds that kind of go nowhere, but still resolve nicely. The backing vocals could definitely be better (as could the lead vocals for that matter) but its still a pretty good track.
- Decks Dark – Another slow, moody track, this time with bluesy undertones.
- Desert Island Disk – Did someone say slow and moody? But this time with acoustic guitar and a vaguely optimistic tone? Okay!
- Ful Stop – Sounds like a series of interludes. Good interludes, but definitely interludes.
- Glass Eyes – A simple song about feeling discomfort with society, but with a really lovely arrangement of piano and strings that makes the dreamy, half-asleep quality of York’s vocals really hit home.
- Identikit – Some interesting ideas, but mostly just continues the mood of the album.
- The Numbers – Starts off with one of the most interesting, melodic instrumentals on the album, but the real excitement comes in with the string section, who absolutely steal the song.
- Present Tense – The building layers of guitars sound great, and the bossanova-esque beat underneath it gives the song a unique feeling compared to the other tracks here. The backing vocals are pretty good too, and Thom even sounds fully awake at times.
- Tinker Tailor Soldier Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief – I typed out the name, that should be enough. Its an alright song tho.
- True Love Waits – Full of silky, jumbled pianos and a crooning melody from Yorke, the album’s final cut reaches an astoundingly peaceful resolution. Things don’t get happier, they just continue being sad and somber in a way that is somehow okay. To risk romanticism, its like a musical representation of the moment when you stop crying and wipe the tears from your face; the sadness isn’t gone, but you’re okay with it now and ready to continue onwards.
Overall: If this album weren’t by Radiohead, I feel that almost no one would label it a ‘rock’ album. Of course, this has been the case for most of Radiohead’s work this millennium, but I feel it is especially true here. Nevertheless, Radiohead delivers another moody, contemplative album that finds beauty in repetition and layering; Yorke’s vocals typically represent just another layer in the mix, and even the individual tracks feel like they’re really only parts of the larger picture. This isn’t an album that lends itself to active listening: you aren’t going to love it while reading along with the lyrics if you didn’t love it without having a clue what was being said. The mood is fairly homogeneous throughout, and dynamic contrast is almost non-existent. However, these same traits make A Moon Shaped Pool an excellent album to play in the background late at night, or to listen to on headphones while out and about on a rainy day. Its music for a specific mood, and when it connects it is excellent, but you will not enjoy this album if you want something from it that it just doesn’t have.