Unboxing A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead are my favourite modern rock band, and have been ever since I discovered their majestic song “Street Spirit” on The Bends when I was in graduate school. They are fearless, they are beholden to no one, and they are musical innovators. Radiohead have carved out their own niche in the musical landscape – no one else sounds quite like them, and vice versa. I watch their every move with great anticipation and endless fascination. Sometimes they fall flat on their faces, and sometimes the results of their labours seem incomplete, but I respect the fact that they aren’t afraid to fail. Because when they are successful, it is often transcendant. Plus they are a mesmerising live act. I wish they released more concert videos; you really need to see the songs reinterpreted for a live performance setting to catch all of the nuances and details. Come on, fellows – how about a blu-ray for my Christmas stocking?

The band have been releasing special editions of their albums for awhile now, usually through their waste.co.uk website. Over the past few years I’ve picked up the special edition of In Rainbows and the ‘newspaper’ version of The King of Limbs. They are both proudly displayed in my music listening man-cave, near the foil-backed special edition of Atoms for Peace’s Amok

Back in May of this year, I went online and ordered my special-edition copy of A Moon Shaped Pool on vinyl. It finally arrived by mail last week! Here are some photos of the great unwrapping. 

This is how the package looked upon arrival, after a long journey via airmail from England.

This is the package unboxed.  The two heavyweight vinyl records were tucked into a separate cardboard sleeve for safekeeping. Meanwhile, the artwork portion of the album was bound by what has been reported to be three quarters of a second of actual Radiohead studio recording tape. Very, very cool idea. I’m hoping to figure out some way to play my strip of tape to hear what’s on it, before the magnetized particles drift away and make the tape unplayable. Could it be a snippet of guitar solo from “Bodysnatchers”, or random studio chatter, or complete silence? It’s fun to contemplate the possibilities.

This is some of the interior artwork, once again designed by Stanley Donwood and our pal Tchocky. Plenty of black & white pictures occupying a good portion of the 32-page booklet. 

And this is how it looks with one of the LP’s slipped into its rightful pocket. The records come with paper sleeves that don’t seem to be plastic-lined but are reasonably anti-static and good quality all the same. They fit a little too snugly in the pockets, though. 

This is the lyric sheet for “Burn the Witch”. While the artwork pages are printed on glossy white paper, the lyrics are printed on textured dark paper that reminds me of canvas. The final lyrics are printed in pale green block text, floating over what looks like earlier (rejected?) versions of the lyrics in dark green. The overall impression it leaves is a sense of depth, anxiety, and the quest for perfection in a world torn by entropy – all Radiohead hallmarks, of course. 

Aside from getting the new album on double-vinyl, the listener also gets A Moon Shaped Pool on CD (plus the digital download of mp3s that we received way back when we placed our orders).  The second CD apparently has two extra tracks – can’t wait to hear what they are! Hopefully one of them is the beguiling song they recorded for the James Bond film Spectre, but ultimately wasn’t used. 

One last note. Now that I have the fully-assembled album in my hands, it just feels great. The outer cover has a very subtle raised texture, and when you squeeze the edges the thick cardboard compresses just a little between your fingers. In a world littered with plastic jewel cases or, indeed, no physical media at all, the tactile experience of A Moon Shaped Pool is something that I will cherish for a long time. 

Bravo, Radiohead. 


New Best Friends

Well, hello! Long time, no chat. I’ve been busy, you see. I spent my whole summer landscaping my yard, then I went overseas on vacation for about a month. Now that the snow is flying outside (and WTF is that about – it’s only mid-October!?), I’m hunkered down in my trusty man-cave. It’s the Thanksgiving long weekend, so now is as good of time as any for a long-overdue update to my blog. 

As mentioned, I spent the latter half of August and the first half of September touring the British Isles. Two of the English mates I made during my New Zealand trip a few years ago invited me over to go hiking on three consecutive long weekends. We made it to the top of Helvellyn in the Lake District, and to the summit of Yr Wyddfa in Snowdonia (in the pouring rain and gale-force winds), and we went on an epic coastal hike in Exmoor National Park. It was really great. 

In between hiking excursions, I set off on my own to visit some of Britain and Ireland’s great cities. I spent a day in Cambridge, three days in London, two in York, two in Dublin, and two memorable days in Edinburgh. In each case, I made a point of exploring their record shops on foot. I came home with a carry-on bag stuffed full of vinyl. 

As I sit here listening to my new records, I’m thinking back to the day that I first discovered each of my new friends. I picked up the Biffy Clyro and Manic Street Preachers records on my first day of exploring Soho. Later in my trip, I returned to Soho to buy the Teenage Fanclub albums, which are hard to find on this side of the Atlantic. Hat tip to Sister Ray Records for having such a great selection to choose from, and a quick hello and thanks to the bloke at Fopp Records in Covent Garden for our enthusiastic chat about School of Seven Bells. 

When I made it over to Ireland via the fast ferry, I was thrilled to find out that Dublin also has three or four decent record shops. Including a Tower Records store – no kidding! An actual brick and mortar Tower location, just off O’Connell Street. It was like finding a unicorn in a field of four-leaf clovers. Despite the sky-high prices, I dropped thirty euros on my favourite Elbow record, Build a Rocket Boys. In fact, it’s spinning on my record player as I type this. 

Next it was onto Edinburgh which, if you’re asking me, is the world’s most beautiful city. Please don’t make me choose between the architecture and the women, because they both were a feast for the senses. Perhaps an hour after arriving in town, I walked into an indie record shop at the bottom of the venerable Royal Mile called Unknown Pleasures. Sure enough, they were blasting Joy Division over the sound system as I stepped across the threshold – how appropriate was that? After diving through rack after rack of thematically-grouped gems, I came away with a brand-new copy of the Cosmic Rough Riders debut album (a band I knew from my first trip to the UK in 2001) and a cool live single by northern heroes The Futureheads. 

All in all, it was a great trip and I made some life-long memories. I’m forever in gratitude to my friends Sally and Colin for going out of their way to host me and show their Canadian cohort a good time. 

On my way home, I spent a day in Vancouver, partly because the flights worked out better. Of course, this also gave me an opportunity to visit some more of my favourite record shops. After a fruitful Friday morning at Neptoon and Red Cat Records on Main Street, my overstuffed carry-on bag got even fuller:

It was cool to finally find a copy of Jagwar Ma’s 2013 debut album after years of searching. I also stumbled across a live album by one of my indie favourites Divine Fits, and of course I had to pick up the new Wilco record. Jeff Tweedy and Co. could record and release thirty minutes of burps and hiccups and I would still line up to buy it. Perhaps the highlight of the day was procuring a copy of Blue Rodeo’s Five Days in July which, for my money, might be the finest Canadian recording ever released. Apologies to Leonard Cohen but God knows I’ve played this Blue Rodeo CD to death over the years; I even bought the songbook and learned to play every track – with varying levels of ineptitude – on guitar and vocals. It feels so great to finally have the vinyl version in my collection. Now I just need to figure out how to rig up my record player next to a campfire for full effect…

So, tonight, I’m lounging in my man-cave, getting better acquainted with all of my new best friends. Hope you are also having a nice day, Thanksgiving or otherwise, wherever you find yourself as you read this.