Radiohead’s music has always sounded to me like it is in an idiosyncratic relationship with Calvino’s extraterrestrial, yet still heart-felt masterpiece Cosmicomics. At first, it was just a small resemblance between “Packed Like Sardines in a Crushd Tin Box” and the extremely opulent, supra-spatiotemporal depiction in “All at One Point”: “The fact that all matter and creation used to exist in a single point. ‘Naturally, we were all there—old Qfwfq said—where else could we have been? Nobody knew then that there could be space. Or time either: what use did we have for time, packed in there like sardines?” Also, the depiction of dinosaurs in “Optimistic” and “The Dinosaurs” section in Cosmicomics just pointed at the same mind-bending images.
It is undeniable that human mind is fitted in such a way that it cannot help, but associate, combine and strive to structure an ever-bigger, all-encompassing frame for the parts presented to itself. I am sure everyone came across this missing-piece-text test which is basically a text with some missing letters and other components. The purported miracle is that you can just read it as if nothing is amiss in the text. We just cannot live with the pieces lying apart; we need to stick them together, because there is supposedly a meaning, a structure devised by some meaning-obssessed creator behind all of it.
You can call me a lunatic with this type of reasoning. You can blame me for reading too much into it and trying to make my effort worthwhile. One could just give the cold-shoulder to this type of a parallel, since, well, there must be one other literary piece of work that could partly fit in what Radiohead is nebulously narrating. But still, this parallel sounds just too piercing and shimmering to be a coincidence, when Radiohead is in question. Yet, we can still dismiss these parallels as the blather of a dazzled and blasted nut job whose mind is straying off into the depths of cosmos and getting smothered by the lack of oxygen. After all, no analogy or metaphor or parallel can be verified through the words of Yorke or any other band member. However, with A Moon Shaped Pool, these are no more the overarching resemblances of a hallucinating mad man, but materialized pieces of overlap. From the title, to the lyrics, to the overall feeling, there is a cosmic weariness which encompasses all ranging from the “Making Do”-like oppressive town to a micro-ennui or malaise.
In and of itself, besides all these far-fetched analogies, A Moon Shaped Pool is a grandiose Radiohead statement which embraces all of what they have done from Amnesiac to In Rainbows, to Kid A, all the way to The King of Limbs. “Ful Stop” feels like it is an addendum to TKOL, “Decks Dark” sounds like it is an extension to Kid A, “Present Tense” would not stand extrinsic to In Rainbows among the kinds of “Faust Arp” and “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”. It is not hard to place all of the songs in some other Radiohead album, if one tries and it is not a shock, since most of the songs have already been written and performed live numerous times. These tracks belong to those eras of other albums. However, this does not mean they do not cohere into one album. On the contrary, they had not been in other albums, because they did not feel “right” in those albums and Radiohead’s patience pays them back dearly.
“Decks Dark” is the new addition, never heard before. It is a boon and bona fide surprise, since it is one of the greatest Radiohead tracks I have ever listened to. Suffused in heavy, knotty lyricism, adorned with wistful guitar strums and aerial humming, it starts gray and enshrouds itself in darker tones. “Glass Eyes” glides and oscillates between smoothly and subtly jazz-tinted piano ballad and ethereal violin sequences, while Yorke’s delivery is tipping on the fragile patches of icy islands.
The one aspect which cannot go without being mentioned is the heavily utilized strings. Robert Ames’ breath-taking mastery in viola is transforming Radiohead’s usual mastery with rock instruments into true artrock, whatever that means. An authentic feeling of fusion between the strings, electronics, (less than usual) guitars, Yorke’s vocals and whatever else is fortunate enough to be included (I would want to be a patch of sound thrown into this larger-than-life collection) revamps Radiohead’s sound into a sublime, timeless work of art.
All in all, It is a quintessential Radiohead record in one sense (You would recognize this sound from even galaxies-away) and in another sense, it is a more grown-up, ripened and Radiohead, endowed at some times with celestial, at other times, with disorienting, mind-grinding strings. The songs are more reliant on the overall texture, rather than on single-worthy moments and there are songs in the album, who date back to pre-Big Bang. In the end, it is that unmistakable, signature feeling Radiohead has constructed over the course of more than 20 years, exuding every second of the album. From the first bow-slide to the last beat, it feels so packed and suffused with emotion, sound-gimmickry (remember “Climbing up the Ladder”s extremely disconcerting strings which have been ingeniously arranged to make you feel like you wither away) and Yorke’s other-worldly voice. The combination of these elements is so endemic to Radiohead now that you cannot get even dumbfounded by the shuddering beauty of them. The album feels empowering and placating, unified and disjoint, dreadful and infinite at the same time. All these feelings coalesce around a single message: if you embrace your sadness, dread, deeply embedded and ingrained melancholia, then there is nothing you cannot tackle along the way. That is Radiohead’s unique message for us mortals.