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An Auditory Anxiety Attack
Written by Tim Higgins / Published on 31 August 2016

An analysis of Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool

It was the early morning of May 1st 2016 and the world still asleep when Radiohead vanished. The music world woke up too find Radiohead’s online presence had been erased. Their website was eroding slowly, fading to white.

And so it remained while everyone wondered.

Radiohead aren’t a normal band. They are artists to the man and their digital erasure was nothing more than an extension of their artistic expression. They were physically erasing the technological theme that had influenced their music for over a decade. Making room for something new and organic. An album named A Moon Shaped Pool.

Slowly they returned with glimpses of a new album – their first in 5 years – and a new Radiohead.

A Moon Shaped Pool still feels like a Radiohead album and it’s a very good album, one of Radiohead’s best and that is saying something. But as with every Radiohead album that has come before there is a measure of growth and development. Out are the eerie synthesisers and haunting technological drones of the past. In are the eerie violins and haunting acoustics of the now. The album opens with a stabbing string section, an auditory anxiety attack, which drives the fearful and paranoid themes of the albums opening song “Burn the Witch”.

That is not to say the album has shed Radiohead’s signature use of technology. Tech is still used and used well, the songs “Identikit” and “Ful Stop” feel reminiscent of Radiohead’s early forays into making music with technology. It is clear, however, that guitarist and composer Jonny Greenwood has been given more freedom to explore orchestral instruments as is highlighted by the vocal chorus and violins found in the dramatic conclusion to “Tinker Tailor…”. Singer and lead songwriter Thom Yorke has also been more liberal in his use of acoustic instruments. Most of the album is riddled with his signature piano and several acoustic guitars. And they drive some of the most thematically resonant and emotional songs on the album. “Decks Dark”, “Glass Eyes” and “The Numbers” bleed emotion and honesty as Yorke bares all. The final song on the album, “True Love Waits”, is a melancholy reflection on Yorke’s failed marriage. The song leaves you feeling haunted as Yorke, through tremulous voice, sings one of the most personal pieces he has ever written.

In truth the whole album is personal. It speaks to the state of the world. It criticises the paranoia fuelled hatred that plagues western society in “Burn the witch”. And slowly becomes a more intricate criticism of the individual: “True Love Waits”. All while bluntly shedding technology as if asking the listener to do the same. Because the album is better for it. At moment’s A Moon Shaped Pool harks back to Radiohead’s grunge days and its technological evolution, a celebration of their journey, but at all times it is a testament to an anxious present and an uncertain future.