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This article first appeared at No Ripcord on October 10, 2016.


Bon Iver creates beauty out of disarray. On his first two albums, Justin Vernon took his heartbreak and turned it into gorgeous, soothing melodies. 22, A Million takes a similar approach, but the filter for his turmoil is gone. Instead, these songs are chaotic, unexpected and jarring. Samples, vocoders, and shambling synths crash together in an unstructured soundscape. But if you listen through the anarchy, you will find a stirring, masterful odyssey.

22 (Over Soon) throws you into an alien landscape of stuttering electronic glitches and auto-tuned vocals. But Vernon’s voice comes in like an old friend, bolstered by a lovely sample of Mahalia Jackson’s performance of How I Got Over. The aggressive 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄ is the most tumultuous song here, with pounding percussion, unintelligible vocals and crushed, flattened instrumentation. Somehow though, these elements create a perfect storm, sounding harsh but not painful. 21 M♢♢NWATER goes a bit too far, though, barely holding together as a song at all.

While many songs are crowded and cluttered, others offer a calm in this maelstrom. 715 – CRΣΣKS is a corrupted choir of Vernon’s voice, contorted to several warped tones. ____45_____ is also stunning, with twisted saxophone lines, gentle banjo picking and Vernon’s voice. 666 ʇ is sunny with warm guitar chords and an electronic beat pattering away. “I’m still standing in/Still standing in the need of prayer/The need of prayer/No, I don’t know the path/Or what kind of pith I’ve amassed,” Vernon sings.

It’s this need for assurance from God on his path that occupies Vernon’s thoughts on this album. “These will just be places to me now,” he sings on 33 “GOD,” giving up attachments over a grounded piano melody. On previous records, this song may have been just his voice and the keys. Here? It’s buried and resurrected around samples from Jim Ed Brown, Lonnie Holley and Paolo Nutini. 8 (Circle) hits a similar note, as he sings “Not sure what forgiveness is/We’ve galvanized the squall of it all/I can leave behind the harbour.”

29 #Strafford APTS comes the closest to combining all aspects of Bon Iver so far. While there are electronic  vocals and floating synths, this is a graceful spiritual that harkens back to earlier works. If you don’t feel something when that voice wails out the word “canonize,” or when Vernon breaks into distortion as he ascends to falsetto, check your pulse; you may be dead inside.

Vernon’s desperation for answers find a resolution of sorts on 00000 Million. This piano-based hymn finds Vernon trying to cut ties, only to return to familiar haunts. “I hurry bout shame, and I worry bout a worn path/And I wander off, just to come back home,” he sings, the weariness clear even through a vocal effect.“Well it harms, it harms me, it harms, I’ll let it in,” he concludes, choosing to stay and live with the pain.

22, A Million finds Vernon searching for a solution to the hole in his heart that he tried to fill with pandemonium. But despite the pleading and searching for answers from God, it’s up to him. Maybe the solution is realizing that there isn’t one at all. Vernon may not be sure if he’s on the right path, but he’s certainly on a good one.


This article first appeared at No Ripcord on September 20, 2016.


Preoccupations have had a mixed couple of years. When their debut came out in early 2015, they went by the name Viet Cong. Although the record itself was a shadowy take on post-punk that garnered much deserved notice, a good portion of that attention took the form of criticism over the band name. So now, a year later, the four-piece has been reborn as Preoccupations. Same aggressive, foreboding sound, but now with 100% less controversy!

With their second self-titled LP, Preoccupations returns with a crushing, take-no-prisoners attitude that infects these nine songs, at times as tense as a knife against your throat. Anxiety sets the tone with an opening drone that could be mistaken for distant church bells, setting you up for a destructively sinister groove. While Matt Flegel speaks-sings his way through the verses, he draws out the two-word chorus, sounding more like a corrupted audio file than a belted note.

Sure, it’s easy to see Joy Division in this band’s DNA, but don’t think for a second that it makes them predictable or obvious. Monotony is all angry, angular chords slashing across the background with momentary shifts to a captivating hook. But as it moves into Zodiac, the motorik beat shifts from industrial to electronic, bubbling rather than battering. Zodiac itself is a roller coaster, as the tempo dramatically changes with no sense of build-up. Flegel snarls his way through each line, issuing commands like “Retake your form/From the sad days/Focusing on/The task at hand.” The monolithic Memory feels like a couple of segments stitched together by a lengthy jam session, ending unexpectedly with an ambient trip. Sense is a minute-long harmonious transmission, both calm and needy.

Even when a track seems more “traditional,” Preoccupations still aims to throw you for a bit of a loop. At first, the slow-climbing keyboard and vibrating guitar of Degraded would fit on side two of Low, but the song curves into a raucous, speedy number, courtesy of quick-footed drumming and screeching guitars. Forbidden pulls off almost the reverse trick, sounding spacey, but then inexplicably fading out as soon as the guitar and drums kick in. Stimulation‘s only trick is that it doesn’t have one, existing as a propulsive, head-banging slice of post-punk.

Preoccupations is a strong follow-up to an excellent debut record. It showcases a band that is evolving and finding new ways to stretch out their sound. Now that Preoccupations will no longer be….preoccupied by objections to their former band name, there’s nothing left to hold them back.


This article first appeared at No Ripcord on September 12, 2016.


The story of My Woman is exactly as it says on the tin. Angel Olsen’s third album has been self-described as “the complicated mess of being a woman.” To tackle this immense topic, Olsen’s expanded her sound, fusing a late 60s/early 70s rock vibe to the alternative folk of Burn Your Fire for No Witness.

Opener Intern instantly stands out, its slow-pulsing synth right out of Twin Peaks. Olsen’s voice matches the low-key vibe, resigned to going through the motions in work and in love. “Falling in love and I swear it’s the last time,” she sings breathlessly, the lyric’s determination undercut by her passivity.

Of course, thinking about falling in love is a detached viewpoint. Once you are in the relationship, your perspective shifts. So does Olsen, tackling the ever-changing nature of such a commitment. Never Be Mine is pining, with the light fuzz of an electric guitar and tumbling drum rolls. Shut Up Kiss Me reinforces its rocking, commanding chorus with rapid guitar strums. “We could end all this pain right here/We could rewind all of those tears,” Olsen sings, backing up her words with a sharp and sly guitar solo.

As people have different life experiences, their priorities may change and relationships may drift. Olsen captures this in Heart Shaped Face, questioning if her love saw her for her, “Or was it your mother?/Or was it your shelter?/Or was it another/With a heart shaped face.” Such a change is rarely smooth and Olsen’s anger comes across in Not Gonna Kill You. The rage builds over a dry guitar hook with each verse until it bursts from her with a burning solo and a shout. Give It Up tries to get a similarly wounded feeling across, but the music fails to deliver.

The two longest pieces on My Woman are by far the most introspective and magnificent. Sister is a dusty number that unfurls into an epic  of self-discovery, through the device of talking to an imaginary sibling. “Live it through your eyes/Piece us together/Know that this wild road/Will go on forever.” It ends with a killer repeated line, “All my life I thought I’d change,” interspersed with a pure 70s guitar hero solo and backing church choir vocals. Woman brings back the soundtrack style synths, like a blanket of clouds over vibrating guitar chords and a nimble bass. “Tell me that love isn’t true/I dare you to understand/What makes me a woman,” Olsen sings, belting out the last word in a cathartic release.

The piano ballad of Pops ends the record as it started, with lo-fi vocals that accept Olsen’s relationship is over. It returns her to the resignation of Intern, now tinged with heartbreak. It’s a beautiful, somber end to an emotional whirlwind of an album.

What makes My Woman great isn’t the new synths or the rockier tone. It’s Olsen herself, filling these songs with the love, desire, anguish and acceptance that comes from her perspective as a woman. While it’s easier to sing about being in love or falling out of love, Olsen is wise enough to see the long game. She knows that change is a part of life, whether it’s in the work you do, the people you love or the person you become.


This article first appeared at No Ripcord on August 22, 2016.


Kelsey Lu’s Church is as direct an opening statement as you will get this year. The cellist’s debut is sparse in all the right ways, putting the focus on her voice, her playing and her lyrics. In lesser hands, this could be problematic as it’s much easier for cracks to stand out. But on Church, Lu handles all three of those segments so powerfully and passionately that you can only listen in awe.

Nowhere is her talent put on display as much as on Dreams. It opens the record with a beautiful slow burn of discordant notes, expansive, mysterious and jagged all at once. If nature had an orchestra, this intro would be its tune-up. It could also be the start of a vivid dream, in the way that it shimmers out-of-focus, but is bright and singular enough to get the message across. And this is all before Lu even starts plucking her cello strings and unveils her gorgeous, haunting wail. “I know you’re no good boy, I can’t get enough of you,” she sings, her dreams offering her no reprieve for her longing.

Lu’s voice not only has jaw-dropping levels of depth and range (see the near glass-shattering pitches of Morning After Coffee), but is filled with pathos, making you feel every note. On Empathy, Lu sings about a broken relationship, only to deliver the simple-in-concept but difficult-in-practice line: “Empathy is what I need. Empathy is what you need.” The forlorn, cutting strings follow up to bold-face this proclamation. Time also explores the sparks and burns of love, as Lu expresses a sensation of freedom from waiting around for another to love her back. The strings, somber and sad, weave through a bubbling percussive soundscape, like a fish cutting through water.

The beauty of Dreams is only matched by the closing sprawl of Liar. Opening with a burst of harp, the melody retreats to its barest form, to put all the attention of Lu’s otherworldly vocals. “I’d be lying if I said I was okay, cause I’m not,” she sings, her voice fragile but forcing the notes out. This isn’t a song Lu wants to sing, but needs to sing. The same can be said for her breathless cello solo that surges at the end, only to fade back into nature.

As talented as Lu is, it’s her passion and emotions that make virtually every song on Church connect. Besides the fact that it was recorded at a church, the title works as this is a spiritual awakening for Lu that we’re lucky enough to have witnessed. Now that she’s woken from her dreams, there’s no telling where she’ll take us next.


This article first appeared at No Ripcord on July 7, 2016.


Natasha Khan has always used Bat for Lashes as a vehicle for stories, whether from her personal history or her imagination. Throughout her career, she used her entrancing voice and otherworldly music to weave tales both fantastical and mundane with equal passion. On The Bride, Khan goes a step further, creating an arc about a woman whose fiancé dies on their wedding day, sending her spiraling into a journey of self-discovery and healing.

Yes, a concept album is difficult to pull off in the best of circumstances, but damn does Khan sell it. By letting the music guide the narrative, not the other way around, she (mostly) avoids the storyboard pitfalls that plague other such endeavors. It also helps that Khan’s never sounded better. She hits that sweet spot between power and control that dazzles but doesn’t overwhelm.

Listen to In God’s House, which turns a wedding organ inside-out, flattening the notes into a funeral dirge. It’s only in the chorus that synths sparkle up, reflecting the prophetic vision the bride sees of her love’s demise. “What’s this I see?/My baby died on the beach/What’s this I see?/Fire,” Khan sings, shouting out the last word in a stunning burst of horror and heartbreak. Joe’s Dream doesn’t quite reach that level of pathos, but its thumping drumbeat and muted guitar chords wisely put the focus on Khan’s vulnerable, almost desperate vocals.

It’s fitting that The Bride came out 10 years after Bat for Lashes’ debut, Fur and Gold, as that’s the last record to hone in on Khan’s own perspective, if not necessarily her actual life. Now, instead of playfully swinging down the road on a bike in What’s A Girl To Do?, the bride of Honeymooning Alone cries and rages as the “girl that was denied.” Next, the propulsive highlight of Sunday Love finds the bride trying to outrun her own tragedy, the electronic beat spinning like spokes on a wheel.

When people are faced with death, they look beyond the everyday to seek answers or lay blame elsewhere. Khan does both. She curses out the heavens on the stormy Never Forgive The Angels. On the string-swept Close Encounters, she hopes that her lover’s spirit exists as a “pale green light” that she will join one day, becoming “a dream of time and sound.”

Nearly all these tracks work perfectly together for the fable Khan has crafted. Widow’s Peak is the only number that fails to land. The spoken-word piece goes overboard with the mysticism, throwing in wind chimes and lines about dreams, goddesses and demons. It pulls you out of the experience and is not a song you’ll need to hear more than once.

Thankfully, the beautiful closing tracks are a restoration both for the album and the bride. The healing begins on If I Knew, a sparse piano ballad as strong as Laura. “Baby, if I knew what I know now/I could never turn it back around,” she sings, knowing the relationship was still worth the pain. I Will Love Again is a mirror of Joe’s Dream, stripped back to put Khan’s voice in the center. But she sings each word with confidence, the fragility left behind. In Your Bed finds the bride reaching the point where she can look back and recall her time with her love happily, as strings swirl skywards around her.

With The Bride, Khan has created a sublime tale of sorrow and recovery, of accepting loss and working through pain to become a stronger person. Likewise, Khan has taken her interest in similar journeys from earlier albums and used them to make her most consistently captivating work thus far. If there’s one way that art imitates life here, it’s that remembering and learning from the past can help build a stronger present.


This article first appeared at No Ripcord on June 29, 2016.


Companion is comprised of four tracks from Braids’ sessions for Deep in the Iris, their third and so far best album. Still, don’t think these are scraps from the cutting room floor. The trio of Raphaelle Standell-Preston, Austin Tufts and Taylor Smith are too dedicated to let their fans off that easily. Instead, Companion is exactly what it says it is, an accompanying piece that gives you a deeper look into the same journey.

The haunting title track begins with Standell-Preston’s voice, mournful and resigned, singing “It had nothing to do with you/how can I make that more clear?” to her stepbrother, who was left behind when her family was torn apart by the actions of her abusive stepfather. All the focus here is on her passionate delivery, with synths that gently swell like waves on a beach. It’s such a stripped-back track that it feels like we’re intruding on a private conversation she’s wanted to have for years with her sibling.

The destruction of a different type of relationship is the subject of Trophies for Paradox. Beautifully warped, taunt guitar strings form the bed of this tale of a man who fulfills his desire and then dismantles the relationship. Standell-Preston deftly takes her opening lines of optimism, “He came in/Like a winner/Strong and slim/Trophies in his grin,” and turns them upside-down as the relationship turns cold, singing “He came in/Like a sinner/Small and grim/Trophies to the wind.”

Joni moves with a jittery, jagged beat from Tufts, fitting for lyrics about being comfortable with not knowing where your life is heading. While the beat never truly goes off the rails, enough elements keep pushing and pulling it in opposite directions, with Standell-Preston’s vocal as the only anchor. Her voice is equally vital in Sweet World, echoing like wind over a canyon, as classical piano keys play off sharp percussion below. Still, this closing song does go on for a bit too long and doesn’t capture your attention as much as the other three tracks do.

While Sweet World may not be the best note to end on, Companion as a whole is an ideal way to close this chapter of Braids. It’s an excellent way not only to revisit and expand on some themes from Deep in the Iris, but also to hold us over for what comes next.


This article first appeared at No Ripcord on June 13, 2016.


When a band hits the 20th anniversary of their debut, it’s hard not to look back at how it all began. For Garbage, that resulted in the 20 Years Queer concert tour last year. How do you follow this trip down memory lane? With a new album, of course! On Strange Little Birds, Garbage aimed to be more spontaneous and capture the darkness of their first record. While they do succeed on a few tracks, the results are sporadic.

It kicks off strongly though, that’s for damn sure. Sometimes rides a film noir piano line into crushing, distorted guitar scratches. It’s an opener that immediately sets the album apart from their other works. It also sets the stage for Empty, a hurricane of a song, with a slippery guitar riff that pops up throughout and anchors the song’s ascendant chorus. Shirley Manson knocks it out of the park with a performance that turns on a dime from confident belting to halted stutters.

The power on this album is definitely with the rockers. Manson’s vocal aerobatics on the electronica of Magnetized burst through different octaves in the chorus with synths storming behind her. It’s insanely catchy and should be an adrenaline rush live. We Never Tell is another kinetic uptempo number with a driving beat by Butch Vig. While these tracks are great, the problems lie between them in the sequencing. Blackout and If I Lost You bring the momentum of Empty to a screeching halt. The former wastes a decent riff and drum pattern by driving them into the ground, with minor-to-no variation over its six-and-a-half minutes. The latter takes on trip-hop, with a beautiful, fragile performance by Manson. But the song falls flat on repeated listens. Night Drive Loneliness also does little to nothing with its sinister opening guitar either, fading into electronic soundscapes.

That being said, a couple of ballads do manage to land. On Even Though Our Love Is Doomed, a heartbeat percussion, sharp guitar lines and Manson’s aching vocals create a growing sense of danger and desperation. It’s like watching an incoming comet get bigger and bigger in the night sky. Teaching Little Fingers To Play is a flashback ballad that isn’t exactly nostalgic for the past, but instead comes to terms with the present.

Strange Little Birds is not as triumphant or solid of a record as Not Your Kind Of People. While Garbage still sound hungry and willing to try something new, too many songs don’t hold up to their reputation. There’s plenty of material worth diving into on this album, but the results could have been much, much stronger.


This article first appeared at No Ripcord on May 30, 2016.


It wasn’t too long ago that being a New York band meant you had an attitude and fury that would guarantee your survival. Rather than staring at their instruments or try to catch your attention with small talk, these artists would get in your face and force you to listen. And you’d be thankful that they did. That’s Mother Feather in a nutshell.

Led by slithering, screaming singer Ann Courtney and vocalist/keyboardist Elizabeth Carena, Mother Feather’s self-titled debut has the theatricality of a time traveling Karen O, if she brought the underground rock of the 90s and 2000s to the 1970s. This is gritty, dive bar, party-until-the-sun-comes-up music that is anchored by guitarist Chris Foley, bassist Matt Basile and drummer Gunnar Olsen.

Just listen to the ferocious fuzz of Living, Breathing, the perfect, off-the-rails vehicle for Courtney to throw out irresistible lines like “In this light I can’t see past it/Where would you be if you were my glasses?” On Mother Feather, the band stakes out their territory with a hard rock riff, rafters-shaking bass line and a howling chorus. The Power starts with low-key, muted notes, luring listeners in before blasting them back with…well….a lot of power!

Throughout the album, Mother Feather proves that it is more than a one-trick pony. The slow-burn of Mirror starts like a heavier version of Edge of Seventeen by Stevie Nicks, before slamming into a ripping chorus with Courtney’s intense, belting vocals. Trampoline is rock-funk fusion, blowing out with a call-and-response melody. Beach House has light, sun-soaked Californian chords that fit its title. They Tore Down the SK8 Park effortlessly glides between an echoing electric guitar and acoustic rhythms.

With an aggressive, provocative style and the songs to back that image up, Mother Feather is determined to bring the fight directly to you. Once you hear their music, you’ll realize they are primed not only to survive, but to thrive. With an old-school New York swagger and earworm melodies, this band has all the momentum of a 747 at takeoff. It’s time to jump aboard.



Whenever an artist goes on tour, every fan is coming up with her or his own personal wishlist of what songs they want to hear. There are the expected hits and the new album tracks, but what else will be performed? Will there be a live debut of an old album track? Will a b-side be brushed off for the first time in a decade? These are the songs that deserve a comeback. This is “Play It Live!”

With her new album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, PJ Harvey is set to embark on her first tour in four years. Now on her ninth album, there are tons of songs that are due for a resurgence. Given the heavier and rougher vibe found on her latest LP, some of her older, blues and punk-inspired tracks may fit better with the new material than Let England Shake. With her tour set to kick off in France on June 1, here are 10 songs that I hope will make an appearance.

A Perfect Day Elise
Last Played In: 2004
Is This Desire? is one of Harvey’s most underrated works and A Perfect Day Elise is one of the record’s masterpieces. With an almost beatbox rhythm and shimmering guitar, it signaled an evolution from the in-your-face blues of To Bring You My Love. When Harvey rises above the claustrophobic musical atmosphere for the chorus, it’s an instantly memorable moment. Many casual fans may not be familiar with this song or this record. A comeback here would give Harvey a chance to fix that.

Good Fortune
Last Played In: 2010
It’s no surprise to anyone going to a PJ Harvey show that it can get a bit intense, particularly given the lyrical source of the last two albums. So, what better way to add a sense of relief than with this pop-rock song that is one of the catchiest Harvey has ever written. With lines about Chinatown, Little Italy and the like, it should at least make an appearance when she plays New York City.

Last Played In: 2003
A weird, distorted mess that’s insanely captivating. That’s the best way to describe this Rid of Me track. There’s a reason it kept popping up in Harvey’s live show for 10 years. The vocal, which has her screaming, crying, yodeling and ripping her voice apart, may be tough for Harvey to pull off nowadays, but in the right spot, it could be a devastating throwback to her early days.

Long Snake Moan
Last Played In: 1995
How has this song been missing from Harvey’s set for so long? To put it simply, it fucking rocks. With an incredibly-fuzzed out groove and a leathery vocal, it’s easily one of the most overlooked pieces in her catalog. Given that Harvey brought the distorted guitars back for her latest album, there’s no reason why this song shouldn’t return with them. Did I mention that it fucking rocks?

Last Played In: 2010
This Uh Huh Her track is all about Harvey’s delivery, jumping from a deep growl to a high-pitched, panicked yelp. In the meantime, guitar chords form a taut rhythm and a harmonica jitters along. This would be a great, quick pick to slow things down while keeping a crowd’s rapt attention.

Who the Fuck?
Last Played In: 2010
The Hope Six Demolition Project contains some of the heaviest and most aggressive songs she’s written since Uh Huh Her. So what better time to revive the kiss-off of Who the Fuck? With a squawking guitar riff that almost sounds out-of-tune and Harvey’s curse-laden rant, it’s a fan favorite that will get anyone’s blood pressure rising. Her last two albums deal some weighty themes. Give the crowd and band a chance to shake the spectre off.

The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore
Last Played In: 2010
While much of The Hope Six Demolition Project focuses on war-torn locations like Kosovo and Afghanistan, a good portion of the record looks at the social strife found in Washington D.C. Given that most of Harvey’s discography focuses more on the personal and has only recently swung political, let’s split the difference with this abrasive track from Stories From The City, Stories From The City. Among violence, drug abuse and greed, Harvey reaches out for a human connection. The message fits her new album, and would fit a current setlist, perfectly.

The Wind
Last Played In: 1998
This single from Is This Desire? hasn’t appeared since it’s initial run. That’s a shame, as it has a palpable tension, driven by Harvey’s whispering throughout the song. The vocal matches the chapel imagery, as if she’s almost alone in a church and knows anything above a whisper will reveal her confession to strangers. This track would fit right alongside the spiritual hymn of River Anacostia from her last LP.

Working for the Man
Last Played In: 2004
With a slinking, shaking bass line and a creepy guitar melody, this is definitely one of Harvey’s creepiest numbers. Her half-whispered, half-moaned vocals only add to sense of foreboding, like she’s trying to get you to lean in and listen, but you’re scared of what will happen if you do. Maybe such a quiet, offputting piece won’t work for a festival. But for a club? All Harvey needs to do is turn out the lights, play the song and let the crowd’s imagination do the rest.

You Come Through
Last Played In: 2004
With a clattering, naturalistic rhythm and an accordion humming in the background, this is one of Uh Huh Her’s most unexpected treasures. It truly sounds unique in Harvey’s catalog. With so many songs to choose from for a live set, it makes sense to bring back one that truly stands alone in instrumentation and vibe.

This article first appeared at No Ripcord on May 23, 2016.


A Moon Shaped Pool is a masterpiece. Let’s just get that out of the way. After The King of Limbs left something to be desired and band members were off on various projects, it was questionable whether Radiohead would retain the level of focus that it had in the past. Thankfully, those worries are unfounded, as the group’s ninth album is in the top-tier of their discography. A Moon Shaped Pool is also a dense listen that gives back what you put into it. Like Kid A and Amnesiac, the first listen may seem impenetrable in places. But over time, some of the band’s best melodies reveal themselves, like diamonds discovered in a mix of organic and electronic instruments.

A Moon Shaped Pool is a definitive mood album as well, but the emotions expressed vary immensely from song to song. Decks Dark and Desert Island Disk are gentle and warm psych-folk. “It was just a laugh,” Thom Yorke sings on the former, over a light piano segment that transitions into a heavier pattern, with rattling guitar chords echoing into space. The latter has a Neil Young vibe, with an acoustic melody made for an arid desert at sunset. “The wind rushing round my open heart/An open ravine,” Yorke says, before admitting in relief that “different types of love are possible.”  The Numbers, likely to go down as one of the only good songs about environmentalism, combines many of the band’s best elements. An acoustic rhythm guitar glides next to a submerged piano melody, Yorke moves from a laid-back vocal to his ghostly falsetto and hopeful strings burst out to support a declaration that we will “take back what is ours.” Even if a song appears to be soothing at first glance, the band never lets you get too comfortable. The Present Tense‘s guitar work borrows from bossanova music, a feathery touch that pulls you into Yorke’s words, but the tune unexpectedly builds to a backing choir that whirls by like wind in a valley.

Then, of course, there are the tracks that ratchet up the tension to a harrowing degree. After mastering the guitar and the Ondes Martenot, Jonny Greenwood charges forward with his orchestral work on the most anxious tracks of A Moon Shaped Pool. On the “low-flying panic attack” of Burn the Witch, the collegno strings create an agitated rhythm for Yorke’s lyrics against groupthink. When he sings, “we know where you live,” the strings swoop down into the abyss, drowning out all else. The paranoia is equally palpable on the watery piano ballad of Glass Eyes, where Yorke is frightened by faces of “concrete grey.” Shrill strings momentarily rise up before fading back, like a hand nearly grabbing an unsuspecting person from behind.  Ful Stop charges forward with a low-humming bass groove and alien synths, always staying on the edge of exploding, but never losing its taut restraint. Yorke’s stutters out lines like “You really messed up everything,” “Take me back again” and “Truth will mess you up”  over and over, trying to give his words power through sheer repetition. On Identikit, which pulls off Paranoid Android‘s trick of being three songs in one, Yorke explores betrayal, frustration and “broken hearts” that “make it rain.” As his vocal changes in intensity, the music moves with him, going from an off-kilter rhythm to the best earworm chorus on the album to a squiggly guitar solo.

Many of these songs can be interpreted around Yorke’s recent separation with his long-time partner Rachel Owen. While a few tracks pre-date the end of that relationship, they still fit into that framework, creating a lyrical theme that pops up throughout the record. But two songs fit into Yorke’s lost relationship more than any others and without surprise, they are the two most direct and devastating tracks on the album. Daydreaming, with its effortless, gorgeous piano line, wrings every drop of pathos out of each note played and each word sung. “The damage is done,” Yorke remarks in defeat. As the track closes, the keys are buried under a haunted mix of cello and reverse vocals that echo out, “Half of my life,” the length of Yorke’s relationship with Owen. It’s fitting then that A Moon Shaped Pool ends with a song that’s been around nearly as long. True Love Waits, with keys replacing the acoustic guitar of early live versions, is one of Yorke’s best moments as a songwriter, a fan favorite that lives up to its reputation. The longing behind every iteration of “Just don’t leave” is relatable to nearly everyone, a universal theme that Yorketaps into like few others can. It’s the perfect ending for an equally perfect album.

With A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead didn’t reinvent the wheel, but instead crafted an emotionally resonant, musically unexpected and richly rewarding album. It’s mind-boggling how a band can keep up such a level of artistry after almost 30 years together. But by taking various elements from not only their collective past, but also the work they’ve done separately, Radiohead has created something wholly new and utterly entrancing. They’ve done it again.