ALBUM REVIEW: Radiohead “A Moon Shaped Pool”

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A gorgeously disorientating chasm of black holes and white ones, A Moon Shaped Pool is a deeply personal, impermeable eruption.  Radiohead does not depart from their signature marriage of mathematical chaos and dismembered romanticism, rather expand beyond it with a new fragility that elicits life, death, and the endless versions of self trapped between the atmosphere. With their collective angst and existential inquisition still intact, Radiohead’s vulnerability takes magnetic and celestial form with A Moon Shaped Pool: Less voyeuristic, more confessional. Less teeth, more blood.  A remarkable testament to the tortured beauty of Thom Yorke’s choral vocal dance paired with Jonny Greenwood’s immaculate collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra, their ninth studio album proves that Radiohead has successfully monopolized cohesion. They have not run out of things to say nor ways to say them – and they certainly have not exhausted ways to make us feel something. Arguably the most important collection in their nine album, 24 year career, A Moon Shaped Pool patiently pulls back the skin on love, exposing the very universe Radiohead has prepared us for all along.

The album’s opener, “Burn The Witch” is physically unsettling and darts with operatic anxiety like night rain on a moving windshield. Released just days before the album, “Burn The Witch” feels like an elusive lark in context to the complete picture. For those who assumed “Burn The Witch” would reflect how the rest of the album would sound, you were somewhat wrong. Radiohead, in true Radiohead fashion, gave us a glimpse of the ending and put it at the beginning. “This is a low flying panic attack” Thom Yorke warbles against Jonny Greenwood’s lush, jutting orchestration of strings that stab and sway with equal force. “Burn the witch/we know where you live” preys on Radiohead’s politically charged fears, addressing glaring truths with disarming poetry.

As “Burn the Witch” comes to a heart-racing halt, “Daydreaming” swoops down and induces a different breed of panicked consonance. Its shimmery underwater pulse is dizzying, though never clumsy and Yorke’s ethereal, marble-mouthed vacancy is overflowing with tender exploration. For a song so achingly devoid of hope, “Daydreaming” manages to find a divine spectral beauty that is reserved for sensations as consequential as the loss of love or even the death of a parent. Is it a break-up song? Possibly. Although it feels crude to reduce it to what seems like a tabloid buzz word. “Daydreaming” is a stumbling soundscape of time and vast archives of memory, even moving in reverse repeating the fan-speculated decoding of the lyrics “Half of my life, half of my life.”

It is after these two very different tastes of melancholy that the album swells into what could be a dystopian funeral for 2007’s In Rainbows and the estranged lover of “Codex” off of 2011’s underrated King Of Limbs. “Identikit” feels like the sequel to Kid A‘s “Idioteche”  where the “Women and children first” have been absorbed  into “Broken hearts/Make it rain” and “Ful Stop” could be an adjacent ocean to Rainbows’ “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” both with the rapid chit-chit sound of Philip Selway’s drums.  But even with these scattered comparisons to their catalog, A Moon Shaped Pool stands completely on its own and very much alone. “Desert Island Disk” finds a unique moment of ethereal twangy mountain folk paired with a crooning Yorke anchored to a matter-of -factness through the lyrics “Different types of love” and “You know what I mean” and taps into feels Neil Young-esque territory. Whereas “The Numbers” follows a slinking, almost seductive trajectory that drifts into “Present tense” a peaceful cry of sand shifting pop. A Moon Shaped Pool’s textural landscape is by no means indecisive rather resonates as not-of-this-world and blushes with a concrete unity.

A stirring conclusion to an emotionally taut album, “True Love Waits” is reincarnated here as a tragically serene plea in which shimmering piano and comet tail strings wrap around Yorke’s crumbling echo. For a song that has been a fan favorite for 20 years, “True Love Waits” finally finds a home with unearthed resolve. With what could be considered Radiohead’s love song (of which, in some ways, there are many, but few have found a direct line to the guttural collapse of having loved the way this song does). “I’m not living/ I’m just killing time” Yorke confesses, surrounded by a disjointed fluttering of keys and an unintelligible rolling static that imitates the distant sound of fire burning. As a final and desperate call to love, he begs “Just don’t leave/ don’t leave” in what could easily be the most delicately bruised version of Radiohead we have ever met. But it is with that plea that we are the ones who are left. A hauntingly resonant exit and acknowledgment of finality, loneliness and longing, “True Love Waits” finds a way to say so much with so little and leaves us traumatized with self reflection. A Moon Shaped Pool is a beautifully perilous journey, and even up until the very last whisper we are painfully reminded that some things are worth the wait.

Watch the Paul Thomas Anderson directed video for Daydreaming below:

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LIVE REVIEW: Bryce Dessner’s Lachrimae US Premiere @ Le Poisson Rouge


Le Poisson Rouge might seem like an ill-suited venue for a classical concert, but on Friday March 7, the place was transformed into quite a classy joint. The disco ball hanging above the heads of the elegant and clearly seasoned audience was the only giveaway that the concert would be followed by a ’90s-themed dance party with a live cover band and all (yep, I attended both shows).

But perhaps a “modern” and slightly out of the ordinary venue was the ideal spot for the night’s performances by LPR’s own ensemble, conducted by the well-known André de Ridder. The program featured excerpts from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood, “Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta” by famed composer Béla Bartók, and the U.S. premiere performance of The National’s Bryce Dessner’s “Lachrimae.” Dessner and Greenwood’s works were recently paired together on an album released via Deutsche Grammophon, and the concert celebrated the two composers alongside Bartók, a mutual inspiration and influence.

At 8pm sharp, conductor André de Ridder appeared on stage looking cheerful and excited for the night’s proceedings. He pointed out both Bryce and brother Aaron Dessner seated in the center of the room with their family, but the program began with Greenwood’s compositions first.

The There Will Be Blood score came to life on the stage, with the cinematic sounds seeming much more rich and fleshed out. The dense string section made for a gorgeously layered sound, and the highly emotional pieces were reflected on De Ridder’s facial expressions. He deftly pulled the sounds from the ensemble, embodying the music with wide, sweeping, and dramatic motions.

As it turned out, though, that was simply the warm up. Bryce Dessner’s “Lachrimae” came after the short intermission, introduced by De Ridder who commented that this was “music without any boundaries.” Indeed, “Lachrimae” sounds immediately and arrestingly different, taking off with distorted noises from the cello that captivate with their dissonance. The intense piece required a great deal of energy from the musicians as well as De Ridder—the buildup in tension and, subsequently, the cathartic release were made visually very clear. The song unravels somewhat like a nightmare with feelings of anxiety and fear, but its a scintillating piece nonetheless. Audience members, including the standing audience in the back and Dessner himself, were absolutely rapt for all 13 minutes of the composition.

Béla Bartók’s piece was performed last, with the noticeable addition of a piano and more percussion. Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta” premiered in 1937, but performed side by side with Greenwood’s and Dessner’s works, it seemed to fit right in. The style and themes were conspicuously similar to the other compositions performed that night, with the same kind of tension and feeling of trepidation. The music evokes a sinking sensation and feels sedative and disruptive at the same time. It seemed a fitting choice to close with a piece that further connected the dots between Greenwood and Dessner, ending the night with a full-circle feeling.

ALBUM REVIEW: Bryce Dessner & Jonny Greenwood


Most people know Bryce Dessner and Jonny Greenwood as members of The National and Radiohead, respectively (they both play lead guitar). But outside of their work with two of the most respected rock bands currently around, both Dessner and Greenwood have a background in classical music—Dessner received his music masters at Yale, and Greenwood gave up his music degree at Oxford Brookes University when Radiohead was signed. Both musicians are currently working as composers in residence, Dessner with Dutch orchestra Muziekgebouw Eindhoven and Greenwood with the BBC Concert Orchestra.

Those similarities seem like enough justification to pair the two on this nine track release by Deutsche Grammophon—three of the tracks are Dessner’s compositions from over the past few years, while the other six are Greenwood’s original score for 2007’s There Will Be Blood—but Copenhagen Philharmonic conductor André de Ridder brought the two composers together for stylistic and thematic reasons, which are easy to pick up on after a few listens through the album. The two composers share a penchant for high contrast—dark, deep tones and textures are often juxtaposed with softer, prettier ones—and a knack for depicting a sort of vast musical landscape.


Greenwood’s score, though, has been available for quite some time to the public and is probably familiar territory to fans of his growing soundtrack repertoire (he’s composed the score for four other movies in addition to Blood). The six tracks included on this release, “Open Space” in particular, exhibit an influence from scoring masters like John Williams with the use recurring musical motifs. Greenwood’s work expertly renders original interpretations of emotions that could easily come off as trite; “Henry Plainview,” for example, is a lush piece that explores a kind of sadness and despair, and shows how ugly emotions can be portrayed gorgeously. “Oil” also reveals great sensibility and a certain beauty, with a theme that brings to mind a long journey coming to its end, or the relief that comes with reaching one’s destination.

Dessner’s compositions, on the other hand, are fully fleshed out pieces that range from 13 to 17 minutes long. All three tracks build up slowly but with great intent, saturating moments of stillness with an uneasy tension. “St. Carolyn by the Sea” starts off rather sparse, but Dessner injects the song’s tranquility with moments of acute emotion—trembling violins, thundering horns—that give it an overall feeling of anxiety. The use of electric guitar is particularly noticeable in this track, which features Bryce’s twin brother and fellow National cohort, Aaron Dessner. Later on in “Raphael,” backdrop of low grumbles and droney sounds give a sense that something lurks in the distance, but the menacing beginning gives way to a beautiful and sparkling build up of instruments and emotions. Its ending feels like the calm after a storm.

The album is an overall testimony to contemporary classical music being alive and well. Deutsche Grammophon is a label with an impressive reputation in the classical world, and the association with their business alone signals Dessner and Greenwood’s abilities, but the two composers’ extraordinary abilities speak for themselves. Catch a live performance of these tracks, conducted by André de Ridder, this Friday at Le Poisson Rouge.