Tag Archive: Thom Yorke


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

MoonShapedPool

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.

10/10

This article first appeared at No Ripcord on March 6th, 2013.

When Thom Yorke put together Atoms for Peace to tour songs from The Eraser with him, blog posts,webzine comments and tweets all wondered where the band would go from there. Would Flea, Joey Waronker, Nigel Godrich and Mauro Refosco record an album with Radiohead’s front man or would they come together to play whatever music he recorded by himself? While the arrival of Amok seemed to signal the former, there’s an argument to be made for the latter.

At first listen, the Atoms for Peace debut sounds like a Yorke album, not a band album. The music clearly displays Yorke’s fascination with electronic beats and rhythms, not really showing signs of other major contributors. Signs of Flying Lotus, Burial and Four Tet are all over Amok, but it still sounds distinctly like something Yorke would make. The result is not something that sounds like it was made by five distinct members, but by one or two, as Godrich filled in his role as producer. Even when doing press for the album, it always seemed to be Yorke or Godrich doing the talking.

However, on repeated listens, there are signs on contributions, particularly from Flea. While live bass is not a huge part of the LP, when it’s there, the Chili Peppers bassist makes the most of the space he’s given. So the band aspect of this project is in question. How are the songs? Although Yorke’s songwriting prowess is still very strong, this record is by no means perfect.

You would think it’s pretty damn close to perfect at the start, though. Before Your Very Eyes… pulls together with a groovy, sloped guitar riff, the bass in the pocket and polyrhythmic beats pounding away in the background. The chorus, where Yorke ascends into his haunting, crooning falsetto, lifts the whole track and makes a good opener into a great one.

The first single, Default, begins with a stuttering, almost abrasive beat that creates the sense of running and stumbling through a dark forest. When the fuzzed-out synth kicks in on the chorus though, it’s like breaking through the foreboding mood into a clearing. There’s certainly a lightness and freedom to the chorus, an escape from that earlier claustrophobic setting.

Ingenue is a puzzle when it starts, as the staircase-tumbling synth comes in with no accompaniment. It’s only when Yorke starts to sing that the song makes sense. As it moves forward, a sense of spiritualness and peacefulness embeds every corner of the song.

The best track by far is Judge, Jury and Executioner. The muted rhythms are built up with ghostly wails, then Yorke’s guitar and vocals come in and you can feel everything click into place. The chorus’ quick-tongued, melody-jumping approach makes it instantly appealing and ear-grabbing. If you are trying to get someone to listen to this album but you’re not sure where to start, go with this song as it’s easily the most accessible. It’s a very philosophical track as well, with lyrics like “I’m like the wind and my anger will disperse” and “I talk in layers.” No surprise that it’s the only song Atoms for Peace played in 2010 and one that sounds like multiple people helped to gestate.

So far, everything seems great. But the problems appear on a few of the heavily-electronic tracks. Quite a few numbers on Amok sound like electronic jam sessions, where Yorke came up with a few beats andsynth riffs and quickly cobbled them together into a song. Dropped and Unless pass by without much notice, sounding more like background remixes than songs. Reverse Running is a jazzy sketch of a song, with guitar noodling that goes nowhere. Stuck Together Pieces wastes its light guitar riffs and brass touches under layers of beats.

Still, the album ends strong with the title track. The seesaw keys make up for a nice rhythm and melody, sounding like the light side of the tripped-out ending of “Pulled Apart By Horses.” The heavy, live piano chords are an excellent touch that add to the melody, but keep the main beat in place. The ending minute where the main melody and Yorke’s voice are unchanging and the electronics go all over the place around them is the type of jam that could have gone on for another five minutes. But Yorke ends it at the best time, leaving you wanting more.

So while questions may frequently come up over how much of a band project Amok really is, the music for the most part, makes up any misgivings people may have. After all, if the songs are good, what else really matters?

7/10

This article first appeared at Consequence of Sound on July 15th, 2009.


Bonnaroo has had many great headliners over its past seven years of existence. Wilco, Kings of Leon, Nine Inch Nails, and Phish have all played astounding sets at the festival and helped to create its great reputation as a must-see event. However, there’s one group that’s widely regarded to have had the best Bonnaroo performance overall: Radiohead.

In early 2005, Radiohead had begun working on what would eventually become 2007’s In Rainbows. However, after a year of recording, they hadn’t made much progress, partly due to their stop in momentum after the tour for Hail to the Thief. The record contract with EMI was up, and the band didn’t want to sign with any business in what they saw as a dying industry. So with no album deadline and their first break in years, Radiohead was stuck in the mud.  In order to get the machine working again, the band went on tour in mid 2006. While they mostly played smaller club and theaters, they also headlined a few festivals. It was during this tour that Radiohead headlined Bonnaroo 2006.

The Bonnaroo set can basically be seen as the ultimate Radiohead show. Like their more energetic songs?  “The Bends” and “Myxomatosis” are there for you. Want to relive the days of their electronic era? “Everything In Its Right Place” and “Idioteque” are on the setlist. Even those casual fans out there would be happy with “Fake Plastic Trees”, “Karma Police”, and “Paranoid Android”. There’s something for almost everyone (sorry, Pablo Honey fans, that’s the only album missing here).

Not only is the show legendary for its large variety even by Radiohead’s standards, it’s also given a high regard for its sheer performance length. While many headlining acts play as long as they would at a normal concert, Radiohead stretched their usual 20-song set to an impressive 28 songs. The eight-song encore almost feels like it could pass for a concert itself.

The band used their mini-tour not only to regain momentum for future studio work, but also as a chance to try out songs on the road. In fact, all six unreleased songs played at Bonnaroo would later make it onto In Rainbows. After opening the set with “There There” and “2+2=5”, Radiohead wasted no time in showing off their new material. The awesomely offbeat rhythm of “15 Step” was played back-to-back with the multi-layered guitar touches of “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” as the strangely angled video screens focused on each band member. These two numbers offer a cool insight into their evolution when compared with the more complete album versions.

However, “Videotape” is an example of an earlier version surpassing the finalized track. On the record, the song is a mainly piano-centered piece with a drum loop that comes in towards the end as Thom Yorke sings about using antique technology to say goodbye to his loved ones. The Bonnaroo version is much more complex, though. Jonny Greenwood supplies a scratch guitar against Yorke’s piano that gradually grows louder until the song explodes for the final verse and subsequent ending. The song that ended up on In Rainbows takes more of a bare bones approach than what was done at the festival.

When all was said and done, the band’s set felt like an instant classic. It was quintessential Radiohead in every way. They gave the audience what they wanted, surprised them with what they weren’t expecting, and helped elevate Bonnaroo’s already strong status as a great festival. The show was filmed for a possible DVD in the future, though nothing’s been heard about that for a while. Hopefully, the band will decide to break their drought of live concert releases in order to share what many feel is one of the greatest performances by one of the world’s greatest bands.