A Moon Shaped Pool is Radiohead's ninth studio album. It was released as a download on 8 May 2016, backed by the singles Burn the Witch and Daydreaming. It debuted at #1 on the UK Albums Chart, Radiohead's sixth number-one album in the UK. CD and LP editions were released on 17 June 2016 through XL Recordings, followed by a "special edition" in September containing additional artwork and two additional tracks.
Radiohead worked on A Moon Shaped Pool intermittently after finishing the 2012 tour for their previous album, The King Of Limbs. The album was recorded in southern France with long-time producer Nigel Godrich. It includes several songs written and performed some years earlier; True Love Waits dates to at least 1995, Burn the Witch to 2000, and Present Tense to 2008. Radiohead performed Ful Stop and Identikit during their 2012 King Of Limbs tour. The album features strings and choral vocals arranged by multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood and performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra.
The album was added to Spotify on June 17th, 2016.
During the 2012 tour for their eighth album, The King Of Limbs, Radiohead performed several new songs, including the future Moon Shaped Pool tracks Identikit and Ful Stop. While on tour, the band recorded a version of Identikit and another unidentified song at Jack White's Third Man Records studio.
After the tour, Radiohead entered hiatus and the band members worked on side projects. In 2013, singer Thom Yorke and long-time Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich released an album, Amok, with their band Atoms For Peace; in 2014, Yorke and drummer Philip Selway released their respective second solo albums, Tomorrow's Modern Boxes and Weatherhouse. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood composed film scores, including the Paul Thomas Anderson film Inherent Vice (2014), and worked with classical musicians.
Radiohead and Godrich recorded A Moon Shaped Pool in the La Fabrique studio in France. In February 2015, Selway told Drowned in Sound that Radiohead had worked from September to Christmas 2014, and would resume work that March. In the same month, Greenwood told Pitchfork that Radiohead had changed their methods, "working in limits" and using "very old and very new technology" together. In June 2015, Greenwood said that the band had been slow to regain momentum after their hiatus; Selway stated that the band had worked in "fits and starts", but that a "full schedule" would begin from September.
Jonny Greenwood performing in 2015 with the London Contemporary Orchestra, who appear on A Moon Shaped Pool In November 2015, composer Robert Ziegler, who worked with Radiohead on The King Of Limbs, tweeted photos of the band recording with a string orchestra. The strings were arranged by Greenwood and performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra, who previously worked with him on the score for The Master, and recorded at RAK Studios in London. Drummer Clive Deamer, who performed with Radiohead on the King Of Limbs tour, played additional drums on Ful Stop.
In December, Yorke performed two Moon Shaped Pool songs, The Numbers (then known as "Silent Spring") and Desert Island Disk, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference at Le Trianon in Paris, France. On Christmas Day 2015, Radiohead released a new song, Spectre, on the audio streaming site SoundCloud. It was written for the James Bond film of the same name, but went unused.
Several Moon Shaped Pool tracks were written some time before the album's release. True Love Waits dates to at least 1995; a live version was released on the live album I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings (2001). Godrich said of the song in 2012: "We tried to record it countless times, but it never worked ... To Thom's credit, he needs to feel a song has validation, that it has a reason to exist as a recording. We could do 'True Love Waits' and make it sound like John Mayer. Nobody wants to do that." Radiohead worked on Burn the Witch during the sessions for their albums Kid A (2000), Hail To the Thief (2003), and In Rainbows (2007), and lyrics from the song appeared in previous album artwork and on the Radiohead website. Present Tense dates to 2008, and Yorke first performed it (then known as "The Present Tense") in a solo set at the UK Latitude Festival in 2009.
Music and lyrics
A Moon Shaped Pool is an art rock album. It retains Radiohead's electronic elements such as drum machines and synthesizers, but according to Rolling Stone, supplants them with "an embrace of gorgeous timbres and melody", making use of acoustic guitar, piano, and strings. It makes heavy use of strings and choral vocals; according to Pitchfork, "while lite orchestrations are nothing new for the band, A Moon Shaped Pool brings them to the fore of the songwriting, and Greenwood’s arrangements do more heavy lifting than on any other album."
Burn the Witch features col legno strings, meaning that the players strike their strings with the stick of the bow rather than bowing them, creating a percussive effect. Daydreaming features a piano figure and backwards vocals that resemble "someone struggling for breath". Identikit has a jam-like opening, with "snatches" of vocal and guitar, and ends with an "agitated" guitar solo. The Guardian felt that the strings, bassline and funk rhythm of The Numbers was a homage to Serge Gainsbourg’s 1970 album Histoire De Melody Nelson. Present Tense features a Latin shuffle beat. Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief combines Greenwood's strings with electronic percussion and a distorted keyboard. True Love Waits, first performed on acoustic guitar over 20 years prior, is performed on piano, with additional overdubbed pianos building as the song progresses. The tracks are listed in alphabetical order.
Many of the songs discuss love, forgiveness, and regret with, according to Pitchfork writer Jeremy Larson, "a sense that beyond tectonic heartbreak there is an anaemic acceptance that is kind of beautiful if you don’t get too sad about it". Several critics felt the album's lyrics were coloured by Yorke's recent separation from his partner of almost 25 years, noting that the manipulated vocals of "Daydreaming", when reversed, resemble the words "half of my life". The lyrics of Burn the Witch were interpreted by Pitchfork writer Jillian Mapes as criticism of authority and groupthink, expressing a "deep sense of dread and skepticism"; the Guardian felt the song might address mass surveillance or the threat to open discussion posed by the self-policing users of social media. The Numbers addresses climate change.
In a departure from industry practice, Radiohead did no interviews or touring in the months preceding A Moon Shaped Pool, teasing the album only as it was about to be released. On 30 April 2016, eight days before release, fans who had previously made orders from Radiohead received embossed cards with lyrics from the album's lead single, Burn the Witch. On 1 May, Radiohead deleted all content from their website and social media profiles, replacing them with blank images, which Pitchfork interpreted as symbolising their re-emergence.
After releasing excerpts on Instagram, Radiohead released the first single, Burn the Witch, as a download on 3 May, accompanied by a stop-motion animated music video] The video homages the animation style of the 1960s English children's television Trumpton Trilogy programmes and the plot of the 1973 horror film The Wicker Man. On 6 May, Radiohead released the second single, Daydreaming, accompanied by a music video directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. The video was projected in 35 mm film in select theatres. On the same day, Radiohead announced that their ninth album, then untitled, would be released the following Sunday.
A Moon Shaped Pool was played in its entirety on BBC Radio 6 Music on the day of release, presented by Tom Robinson. The following week, Radiohead released the first in a series of video vignettes by visual artists set to short clips of music from the album. Radiohead began a tour in support of the album in May 2016, with dates in Europe, North America, and Japan. They are joined by additional drummer Clive Deamer, who also performed with the band on the King of Limbs tour. On 11 June, Radiohead announced "Live From a Moon Shaped Pool", which will take place in record stores around the world on 17 June; fans can participate in "an exclusive day-long audio stream from the band" as well as competitions, "instructional artworks", and other activities.