The year 2016 has been a troubled one. But our contributors have triumphed over the darkness by penning some of the best music writing of the year (in our humble opinion). So, as this year draws to a close, we’re celebrating some of our favorite pieces and podcasts of the last 365 days.
—Brenna Ehrlich, Talkhouse Music Editor-in-Chief
Some thoughts on the new Radiohead album, A Moon Shaped Pool:
1) “True Love Waits” sounds like a beautiful sculptural interpretation of an object that is “True Love Waits, the final song on a Radiohead album.” If this bird is the unrecorded song “True Love Waits” (the lyrics, chords, melody):
…and this is the artist Radiohead in their studio:
Then it feels like this is going on:
The dimension of time stretches just past what is reasonable. You could argue the song is too slow, but for me it works. There’s distance from the song, distance useful for contemplation. And then I can enter the song’s world on my own terms. It doesn’t force the emotion on me. And it’s quite beautiful as an object.
2) Radiohead is great and all, but let’s talk about OWEN PALLETT (OK, fine, in relation to the Radiohead album):
Partly I bring up Owen because A Moon Shaped Pool starts off sounding like an Owen Pallet record, with cloudy staccato string chords and kind of Arp-y synth drum sounds. Although, if someone were shouting, “Burn the witch!” on an Owen Pallett album, there would literally be witches involved.
Owen Pallett and Radiohead can both sound equally alienated, modern, esoteric or anxious. An Owen Pallett song, though, sounds like one human trying to communicate with another human. Either Owen is telling a story, or a character is trying to explain itself, or some furious combination of both those things. Communication and connection are the goal.
For Radiohead, communication and connection aren’t generally the goal. They are going for pure creation, and the meaning is embedded (or not) in the whole of the thing they create. They are more cave painters than storytellers.
Neither approach is better than the other. In my own work, I am always trying to directly communicate or teach or tell a story, and I’m a bit mystified as to how artists create work that doesn’t do those things. But works like that have affected me deeply in my life (including much of Radiohead’s earlier catalog).
In closing, if Owen Pallett’s work is as good as Radiohead’s, then by my math he must be five times as talented as any individual member of the band. Here is another Owen Pallett song to listen to either before or after you put on A Moon Shaped Pool:
3) I’ve been listening to this album with normal daily electronic interruption, and I love it. I’ll be listening to “Ful Stop” while running, and just when the song picks up my running app’s robot lady will say, “You’re doing a great job! You’re almost there!” I’ll have “Daydreaming” on in the car, and in the middle of a plaintive Thom Yorke line, Google Maps will tell me, “In eight hundred feet, turn left on Coney Island Avenue.” I’ll be focusing on “True Love Waits,” and my alarm will go off, reminding me to call my mom on her birthday. I am literally surrounded by robot voices helping me to be fitter, happier and more productive.
It feels appropriate to have A Moon Shaped Pool aurally intertwined with my daily life, because while it is not a frisky album, it is a lively album. For the most part, each swell and sound on the record sounds like it has a purpose. It’s like walking through the forest and seeing the different parts of the ecosystem jitter and slime around you — there’s no weighty artificial plan, but everything’s moving for its own intrinsic reason. The unison choral parts on “Decks Dark” and “Present Tense” don’t function as abstract ominous omen. They conjure up the melancholy and community of A Charlie Brown Christmas. The piano sounds throughout are homey, dull and creaky in a lovely way. It’s a good album to have slipping from the foreground to the background to the foreground again. It’s a good album for daydreaming.