Lots of First Impressions posts coming today. Here’s what I thought of the new Radiohead album upon first listen.
A band as popular as Radiohead is always going to spur controversy. Casual music listeners will wonder why all of the music critics freak out whenever they release new material. Serious listeners with a natural bias against all things popular will jump at any chance to yell that they are overrated. Meanwhile, the overly attached fan is still pretending to love every minute of The King of Limbs. Despite the whirlwind of opinions surrounding the group, Radiohead’s influence is undeniable. Their 20+ year career has touched musical communities across the entire world and the incorporation of electronic elements into their rock sound paved the way for a plethora of rock bands throughout the past decade.
Upon first listen, Radiohead’s new album A Moon Shaped Pool certainly sparks interest. The mellow-dramatic, visceral reinterpretation of their sound remains entirely modern. Every song drips with tension, many of them coming to climactic, string-accompanied climaxes with Thom Yorke’s signature singing style floating atop everything. Single “Burn the Witch” may be the most radio friendly. The textural rhythms and droning bass lines combine beautifully with the electronic drums. Soaring strings wring in each chorus until the menacing quarter notes end the song on a particularly tense note. Another strikingly beautiful piece is “The Numbers.” Here, a semi-standard Radiohead groove is bathed in strings and synths that build and build around Yorke’s stagnant baritone vocal phrasing.
The issue with a band that’s been around for this long is the surprise factor is almost impossible to maintain. Part of Radiohead’s appeal is the uncertainty that comes with each and every album they release. Originality has always been a necessity for them, which begs the question; does this new work change the way Radiohead makes music enough for it to be considered an important part of their career? Upon first listen, I would say that A Moon Shaped Pool could go either way. Overall, it was an enjoyable experience and I will definitely be returning to it, but there were some songs that lost my attention a bit and I felt like a good amount of it could have easily been made years ago.