Radiohead’s first new album since 2011’s The King of Limbs is both dazzling and extraordinary. It’s been a long time coming. Back in October of last year people started speculating that a new Radiohead album was in the works when the band created a new company, Dawn Chorus LLP, something they had done before independently releasing both In Rainbows and The King of Limbs. In February, they established a second company, Dawnnchoruss Ltd., which suggested to fans that the new album was imminent. And then finally, on May 8 (Mother’s Day), after a short rollout with two singles released in the previous week, they gave us A Moon Shaped Pool.
A Moon Shaped Pool is quite different from the Radiohead albums we’ve become accustomed to since the early 2000’s—post-Kid A. In many ways it’s a return to the earlier stuff, and particularly the Kid A sessions, which produced both Kid A and the following year’s Amnesiac. For one, this album is bookended by two songs that have been floating around and teased by the band for over a decade: the unsettling and politically timely “Burn the Witch,” and the heartbreaking “True Love Waits,” which first appeared on 2001’s I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings. “Identikit” is another rarity that the band have been playing live for a number of years, and is a definite stand-out. However, there are lots of great new songs here as well that fit seamlessly together with the older stuff.
This album all but abandons the drum machines and electronic music that Thom Yorke was beginning to gravitate towards on Hail to the Thief, In Rainbows, and, most notably, The King of Limbs, as well as his solo albums The Eraser and Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes and his Atoms for Peace project with Flea, which released their debut album, Amok, in 2013. Instead, it’s a return to the earlier, more guitar-based music of the Kid A sessions and the even earlier albums that made Radiohead the biggest band to emerge out of the 90s. In December 2015, Thom Yorke played an acoustic concert for Pathway to Paris, a climate change benefit held at Le Trianon, at which he showcased the new direction with acoustic performances of “Desert Island Disk” and “Silent Spring” from the new album, perhaps its most powerful new song, which has since been renamed “The Numbers.”
The performances at Le Trianon also showed us a more political Yorke, and one who has perhaps finally found his cause: climate change. The father and musician got emotional talking about his son asking him about global warming and what he feels is his responsibility to the planet and to future generations. “Silent Spring,” which appears as “The Numbers” on A Moon Shaped Pool, is a kind of folk-protest song in the vein of Patti Smith, taking the line “People have the power” and giving it a new significance for the modern crises facing us in 2016. The orchestral arrangements on the album version give it an even greater power, as the strings grow in intensity alongside the track’s most inspiring call-to-action lines. “The numbers don’t decide / Your system is a lie” sings Yorke in a moment of clarity, a rallying cry against the lobbyists and special interest groups that currently control the political system.
A Moon Shaped Pool is perhaps Radiohead’s most ambitious album to date, coalescing songs that have been floating in the ether for more than a decade with new and politically-informed material. What’s striking about it is the way it harnesses the old and the new to create something that’s both timely and socially conscious as well as deeply personal and intimate; reviewers have already speculated that the inclusion of “True Love Waits” as the album’s conclusion is a result of Yorke’s recent divorce, and that he’s laying it all bare for us here—although in typical Radiohead-fashion it’s through a cryptic reference in a 15-year-old song. However, A Moon Shaped Pool is noticeably darker than Yorke’s most recent solo work, a fact Nigel Godrich was alluding to when he suggested that part of his soul lives in it as a result of his father’s recent passing.
It’s a difficult album to listen to at times—both emotionally raw and deeply complex. There are vocal parts played backwards, massive orchestras and choirs, and hidden references for fans that know the back catalogue inside out. But as always, it’s worth the time getting to know, as an increasingly rare release from what remains the most exciting band in the world. On A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead remind us of how they got there, and lend their uniquely political voice to a challenging and uncertain time, and the result is both unsettling and deeply cathartic.
Revisit “Kendrick Lamar, M.I.A., and the Politicization of Popular Music,” which features Thom Yorke, here.
Summer has officially arrived. In the past week, some of the biggest artists in the world released new music: Beyonce, then Drake, Radiohead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, James Blake… and relative newcomer Kaytranada. Kaytranada is a name you should get to know fast. A frequent Major Lazer collaborator and astonishingly well-established producer, 99.9% is Kaytranada’s debut LP. A jazzy, electronic tour de force, Kaytranada and his onslaught of special guests combine for a trippy album that is perfect for summer patios and the sun-soaked hip-hop playlists of bars and clubs.
Ready for some more name dropping? Kaytranada’s first album features Anderson .Paak, Vic Mensa, The Internet’s Syd, Little Dragon, BADBADNOTGOOD, AlunaGeorge, Goldlink, Karriem Riggins, River Tiber, Phonte, Shay Lia, and Graig David. That’s right. This thing is stacked. And yet Kaytranada himself stays at the absolute forefront, blending his instrumental tracks with guest features in a way that really draws attention to the production. And Kaytranada’s production is fire: a varied mix of club, hip-hop, and electronic production with elements of jazz and soul and the occasional world sample.
…And funk. This album is incredibly funky and so so fresh. Check out “Lite Spots” coming in at track 13 for a little taste of Kaytranada’s musical sensibilities when it comes to sampling and production. This shit is almost better than Jamie xx (but what is that sample??). Kaytranada arrives on the scene sounding like he was made to make beats for people; as though he should be producing albums for rappers like Anderson .Paak, Vic Mensa, and Goldlink, all of which he’s brought in here. “Glowed Up” is .Paak’s best feature to date, and he’s done a lot of them, from Snakehips to Domo Genesis.
Vic Mensa’s feature on “Drive Me Crazy” is similarly some of his best work to date, as he only has a handful of singles out, the most notable being “U Mad (feat. Kanye West) and “Down On My Luck.” Goldlink and AlunaGeorge similarly shine on “Together,” and River Tiber and Karriem Riggins sound phenomenal on “Bus Ride,” probably the album’s jazziest and most experimental instrumental track. “Weight Off (feat. BADBADNOTGOOD)” is another fantastic jazzy interlude (and a rare but pleasant appearance of real instruments on an electronic album).
99.9% is a goldmine. This is just a taste of what Kaytranada’s got to offer here, from tracks like “One Too Many (feat. Phonte),” “You’re The One (feat. Syd),” Leave Me Alone (feat. Shay Lia),” and “Bullets” (feat. Little Dragon).” The features on this album showcase some of the best emerging and established artists in the hip-hop and electronic music communities. Kaytranada’s debut is a force to be reckoned with, and you should soon expect to hear these songs in hipster bars and clothing stores. This week’s barrage of new music has provided a perfect start to the summer, and Kaytranada is poised to rise up like the sun.
Grimes (aka Claire Boucher) recently stopped by “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” to play a frenzied version of “Flesh Without Blood,” the lead single from her brilliant art-electro album Art Angels. Watch the performance here.
Everything is happening this week. It’s been five long years, but both Radiohead and now the Red Hot Chili Peppers have returned with brand new songs. “Dark Necessities,” unlike Radiohead’s virtual disappearance before the release of “Burn the Witch,” comes with little fanfare. The album will be available on iTunes and has a full tracklist and album art (above). Die-hard Chili Peppers fans: keep in mind, this is only the first single. “Dark Necessities” is the second song on The Getaway, and is a radio-friendly, instantly-catchy Chili Peppers hit, akin to “Dani California,” or “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie” off their last album, 2011’s I’m With You.
The track begins with a very modern sound, an indie-rock build of sorts (Danger Mouse is the album’s producer). But it quickly breaks down into a classic Chili Peppers funk line with the help of Flea’s one-of-a-kind bass-slapping style. The big, bright hand claps add a mod-80s feel, but Anthony Kiedis’ voice remains a defining feature of the anthemic stadium-rock the Chili’s have been crafting since their early days as a 90s funk-punk band. “Dark Necessities” uses piano effectively to create a more expansive sound that Kiedis and co were beginning to move towards on I’m With You, and Josh Klinghoffer’s guitar work here is exceptional, proving that he can not only fill Frusciante’s shoes but take his signature guitar tone to new places. If “Dark Necessities” is any indication, there’s lots to expect from the Red Hot Chili Peppers first album in five years, out June 17.
The Getaway tracklist:
1. The Getaway
2. Dark Necessities
3. We Turn Red
4. The Longest Wave
5. Goodbye Angels
6. Sick Love
7. Go Robot
8. Feasting on the Flowers
10. This Ticonderoga
12. The Hunter
13. Dreams of a Samurai
In a perfect tribute to the late Prince, Mac DeMarco has covered “It’s Gonna Be Lonely” at his home in Rockaway Beach, New York. The video features an asian man in a leather sex mask with some very questionable dance moves. “Although it’s sad, I’m sure he’s ripping a hot solo right now in the next dimension. RIP,” said Mac. Watch it over at The Scene.
Mac DeMarco is the latest in a number of musicians to pay tribute to Prince. One of the most touching was D’Angelo’s cover of “Sometimes it Snows in April” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Watch it below:
After a lot of waiting, Radiohead have finally released new music. “Burn the Witch” is the first single from their upcoming album (which has been rumoured to be coming in June). The track has been teased by the band for more than a decade. Last week, fans in the UK received mysterious leaflets in the mail that said “Sing the song of sixpence that goes / Burn the witch / We know where you live,” the final lines from the song. Over the weekend, Radiohead’s Facebook and Twitter accounts began to disappear, profile pictures and cover photos being replaced by blank images. Their website slowly faded until it too was completely blank. Last night, a teaser appeared on their Instagram of a claymation bird, and then this morning we got a full video to accompany the release of the song.
“Burn the Witch” is a churning, building, absolutely massive Radiohead song. Backed by an orchestral string arrangement, the heavy bass line when it comes in allows Thom Yorke’s voice to take flight. “This is a low-flying panic attack,” he sings before the song’s ominous chorus: “Burn the witch / Burn the witch / We know where you live.” The song’s political undertones are evident in lines such as “Do not react / Shoot the messengers,” and interestingly, the ‘witch’ burned in the video is a man with a notebook who has come to inspect the claymation town. Johnny Greenwood’s impressive arrangement (he’s been performing with symphony orchestras for the last few years) alongside Yorke’s impeccable songwriting reaches its startling conclusion as the song escalates into noise—something Radiohead have always been good at—as the ‘witch’ in the video is set ablaze.