I’m not sure you’ve noticed but the music world is turned on its side a bit at the moment. Yes, Lemonade was all the rage until Radiohead started playing around with the internet’s collective heart. They started by deleting everything… You know, like their entire web presence: Twitter, Instagram – All of it. Then they sent out postcards to members of their fan site with just an odd mishmash pic and some typical cryptic wording. Then a pic of a bird on their Instagram. Then another pic. Then the single and video for “Burn the Witch.” Then the single and video release of “Daydreaming.” Then the album.
It all happened so fast, we got internet whiplash,
Question: How did this introverted English alt-group (all in their late 40’s+) strangle the attention of any and every music-obsessed maniac in the world and out-maneuver all the marketing people who knew better?
It’s a good question. Whatever the answer, that’s exactly what happened. And it worked.
Few artists could pull this off, much less take the chance in the first place. It would come off as gloating and ego-driven. Which, really, is exactly what Radiohead is doing; except, not only did they do it but they somehow made it work. Like it was this cool experiment and we are all a part of it. They never cease to break new ground. It was all so simple.
Cut to the action: A Moon Shaped Pool. Let’s stay with their theme of keeping it simple. The musical wordsmiths of the internet have done a masterful job in breaking down why this album is what it is: simply beautiful. Radiohead didn’t need the chess game of "You and Whose Army?" to make a mark.* It was going to come in heavy no matter what.
A Moon Shaped Pool is by far their deepest work since Kid A and that’s saying something. It’s riveting to just sit back and take in. This is not an album to put on in the background while you’re getting ready for work, chores, working out, etc. Um…no. You’re going to be locked in because that’s what Radiohead does. They take over. You don’t consciously realize it until you’re overwhelmed with their intent. This is a calming expression of their art while also being true to who they are – making you feel a bit uncomfortable with pleasing soundscapes that fall over you. There is safety in these sounds. I’m not good enough of a writer (btw, I’m not a writer) to explain it. I don’t think they do this on purpose. How could they? But, it happens when an artist is so open and vulnerable. This openness is what has pulled the world into their world. Radiohead has a way of getting in your head. I’m just not sure that is where you always want to be when you listen to music.
(BTW, yes, if you’re rolling your eyes at that last sentence, I get it. I totally agree the Rhead fans can take themselves a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiittttttttttttt too seriously. I’ll own it.)
Radiohead has a unique knack for sequencing their songs, as J.S. and I recently discussed in regards to Kid A and Amnesiac. They were made at the same time yet released eight months apart. What’s startling to hear and understand is that each album is completely different. Even though they were created and recorded during the same time frame, Kid A is all about a sense of growing despair while Amnesiac is a tenuous grasp at hope. I think J.S. about clocked it there.
My point is, each song is meant to be heard in the Radiohead order of structure. Shuffle is not allowed. This is a complete piece of music. It’s meant for you to get lost in, and to feel. Do you feel what’s happening here? It’s an open question and one for you to discover.
I think this type of music hits people differently and that’s a good thing. What I personally like is that it made me smile, tear up a little (damn you, "Daydreaming"), and escape the minutia of the world in my raging head. Then you play it again and hear and learn something else. I would challenge you to see what it means to you. Because, when you listen to it, you’re going to be touched. Thank god music can still do that. Radiohead has done it a few times but this time, 16 years after I felt that mental pummeling of the Hammond keyboard on “Everything In Its Right Place” attack my senses, it’s back. Yet deeper.
* E.'s note: I like Radiohead a lot but didn't get this reference. M. said to trust it, so it stays.
Thom Yorke photo by Northfoto / Shutterstock.com