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Monday, May 16, 2016

Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool (Release Date: 5-8-2016)

        When all the world has already been conquered, what is there truly left to do? Now entering their third decade of existence, Radiohead has the least to prove of any artist in music today, having dropped one mind-boggling classic after another, largely reinventing themselves with each new release. 2011's The King of Limbs seemed to mark the potential end of their cultural dynasty, but not in the way that certain bands simply loose their edge as they get older. Consisting of only eight tracks and arriving four years after their previous effort (In Rainbows), Limbs felt like a peace offering to fans who still couldn't get enough, but its relative modesty appeared to pump the breaks on years and years worth of likely-exhausting greatness. The five-piece has been absent ever since, but last Sunday, the longest stretch between albums in band's history finally came to an end. Asking wether A Moon Shaped Pool was worth the wait is almost unfair; at this point, we should probably just take whatever Radiohead has to give us and be grateful. That said, it's time to put on your headphones and count your blessings, because the album is tremendous.

        The Oxford extraterrestrials are older than the last time we saw them, with ages ranging from 44-48, and their latest gracefully embraces their ever-greying hair. Where previous Radiohead releases have jumped out of the blocks with sounds either stirringly direct or bracingly esoteric, Pool favors spacious arrangements that prefer to pull rather than push. The churning strings of opener/lead single Burn the Witch belie an album decidedly more fraught and tense than what we have on hand, a notion obliterated by song's space-case follow-up Daydreaming. There's no The National Anthem here, and no Bodysnatchers or Climbing Up the Walls for that matter; the band's latest is content to call the largely elegiac Decks Dark a rock song, precious few other tracks (Ful Stop, Identikit) even daring to bare their teeth. It's hardly a secret that guitarist Johnny Greenwood's apatite for orchestration has grown in the wake of his collaborations with film director Paul Thomas Anderson. On A Moon Shaped Pool said fascinations finally take center stage, and while it would be hard to argue that this is the best disc in the band's storied career, it's almost undoubtably their most immediately lovely.

        It's also their most human since 1995's The Bends. Despite being a single from 2007's In Rainbows, I could never quite come around to the House of Cards. The song opens with lead singer Thom Yorke imploring "I don't wanna be your friend/I just wanna be your lover." The line is a tad clumsy, but over-earnestness isn't the problem so much our elemental disconnect with the author of the sentiment. Yorke has spent years telling us to suck on lemon and warning us of paranoid androids, causing this level of overt openness and vulnerability to ring false in the mouth of such a messianic madman. He doubles down on the notion here, and while much has been made in the wake of the album's release of Yorke's separation from Rachel Owen, his partner of 23 years, chalking all this up to personal heartbreak seems a bit disingenuous. The songsmith has grown more tender with age, as have the sonics of the band he fronts. Don't expect the youthful immediacy of The Bends, the eerie discontent of Hail to the Thief, the reinvigorated bombast of In Rainbows, or the paradigm-altering insanity of Kid AA Moon Shaped Pool is an adult album by an adult band finally willing to let us behind their emotional curtain. They wear their age with acceptance, awareness, and an inspiring level of curiosity, and for those wondering what too them so long to let their guard down, long-gestating album closer reminds us, in utterly ravishing fashion, that True Love Waits.

Grade: A-

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