Another Masterpiece for Radiohead

Another Masterpiece for Radiohead

George Payne, see “Hike to Rico’s Cave: An Experience Of ‘Two Rochesters’ by Austin Retzlaff”

You’ve known George Payne for his wide-ranging subjects and always thoughtful and informative commentary: on Martin Luther King, a photo montage of Rochester, interfaith dialogue, urban poverty, plans to make the Lower Falls Park and Gorge into a World Heritage Site, a critical response to a PBS documentary, on Black Lives Matter, philosophy of teaching philosophy online, legalizing cannabis as an social of social justice,  and thoughts on the past, present and future of his alma mater, the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.

And most happily in 48 Hours In: a new father remembers his innate goodness.

Today’s George offers Talker‘s first music review.

Another Masterpiece for Radiohead

Recorded at the historic La Fabrique Studios (a 19th century mill that once produced artistic pigment but is used today by musical icons such Nick Cave and Morrissey), Radiohead’s 9th studio album is full of New Wave funky bass lines, techno beats, classical strings, acid jazz, and blues riffs as gritty as the Delta silt.  It’s the band at their most patient, meditative, and tripped out.


Radiohead Laser at the Rochester Strasenburgh Planetarium. Performed Saturdays in August at 8:15pm

From the opening track of A Moon Shaped Pool, the percussive effect of “Burn the Witch” wails, pumps, escalates and crashes into the strings. As Yorke warns of “low flying panic attacks” the drum machine produces marching footsteps and the orchestration mimics the humming of drones.  3:41 into this record and the listener has already been abducted into an altered state of highly cerebral and well justified political anxiety.

radio head

Radiohead Laser at the Rochester Strasenburgh Planetarium. Performed Saturdays in August at 8:15pm

In “Daydreaming” the piano notes are barely breathing, yet the song has an ambient momentum that keeps the pace interesting and spontaneous. This track is so atmospheric and stoned that the band achieves that feeling of being suddenly awoken from a deep sleep and thrust into the violent shock of lucidity. Yorke’s announcement that “it’s too late, the damage is done”  seems sad but nonthreatening. While other voices emerge sympathetically in the form of cylindrical keyboards and cellos, they zip in and out like pollinating bees- their whipping, whizzing, buzzing sounds gliding creepily into the sensation of revved up stock cars and battery operated police sirens. As Yorke taunts himself with the probability of an eternal return, it is clear that this is one of the band’s most adventurous and cinematic undertakings to date.


Radiohead Laser at the Rochester Strasenburgh Planetarium. Performed Saturdays in August at 8:15pm

With the cellos tuned so low that they create a growling sound, “Deck’s Dark” and “Desert Island Disk” distort our sense of time and space even more. The synthesizers morph into slobbering muffler sounds, and the strings intentionally obscure the more percussive elements. As Yorke quietly twists and turns around these notes of dreary resignation, he croons without subtext that “spacecrafts are blacking out the sky” and “there is no where to hide.” Ominous yet devoid of concern,  it feels in this track like apathy has been proven to be the most powerful form of resistance and the band is no longer interested in protesting without it. These may be “our darkest hours” but what has the light done for us lately?

“Glass Eyes” pays homage to The Bends but without any self indulgence and contrived alienation. Yorke’s fluid  vocals make standing next to strangers on a train never feel so utterly human and alien all at once. “Hey it’s me / I just got off the train / A frightening place / Their faces are concrete grey…” Strangers to ourselves in a very strange cosmos, the train moves whether we like it or not. As Yorke’s singular falsetto elevates past all temporal and audio boundaries, he sounds like no one or no-thing else on earth. I want to call him the Ella Fitzgerald of our generation.


Radiohead Laser at the Rochester Strasenburgh Planetarium. Performed Saturdays in August at 8:15pm

The more one absorbs this record, the more it becomes clear that it belongs to Jonny Greenwood as much as it does Tom Yorke. Greenwood’s guitar and string arrangements are daringly executed by the London Contemporary Orchestra. Together, these musicians  weave an absolutely stunning Indra’s web of sonic possibility- with each point in Greenwood’s vast network of sound inflecting a peak experience in the band’s career. “Identikit,” for example, would have worked perfectly on OK Computer and Kid A; but here the brooding angst has given way to a more reasonable contract with solitude and uncertainty. The opening jam in this track slides effortlessly into symphonic cadences of rubber band snapping waves of distortion. It’s pure Radiohead magic.

“The Numbers” is more methodical than anything else on OK Computer,  but it could also fit nicely on that genre bending masterpiece. It has a captivating piano solo, psychedelic rock grooves which resemble Jefferson Airplane and The Doors at their most inquisitive, and backing vocals by Ed O’Neil that tantalizingly challenges and accentuates Yorke’s acoustic guitar. It also has a jazzy “Riders on the Storm” sort of aura which anticipates the most climatic ending on the album. Every inch of this track works. (To see “The Numbers” played to perfection, check out the live version in Amsterdam at the Heineken Music Hall 5/20/2016.)

Produced by longtime collaborator Nigel Godrich, A Moon Shaped Pool reaches full potential in “Present Tense.” After working with this song  since 2008, it has congealed into a near flawless piece of electronic art rock.  Yorke’s vocals are subtle and soft; yet they have a swirling confidence which reverberates in a way that unsettles the listener by comforting them. The Latin shuffle beats play wickedly with the electric blues bass lines, and when Yorke tells us to “keep it moving,” we are obliged to do just that.

This stellar collection ends with the aptly titled “True Love Waits,” which, after more than 20 years in the band’s arsenal, is now enshrined in their official canon. It is an exceptional piece of mood music that has no need for a resolution.

Do not be misled by this album’s complex nuances and orchestral tone. The social unrest in this outfit still burns with an unrivaled incandescence on the rock scene today. These songs (or should we think of them as one extended song?) are ethereal and at times spooky; but they are brilliant, fearless, and they generate meaning and contentment out of social and personal dysfunction.  For that reason, A Moon Shaped Pool is not only an expertly crafted experiment in sound; it is an invitation for anyone who believes in the power of creativity to keep moving forward even when it is pointless to do so.

George Payne

A_Moon_Shaped_Pool (1)


In search of “Progressive Rock” in the mid-70s at Brighton High School with the University of Rochester’s John Covach

In line and inside the Bop Shop for National Record Store Day

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


Like what you see on our site? We’d appreciate your support. Please donate today.

Featured Posts


%d bloggers like this: