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. 

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Upcoming Music Releases – October 2012

There are several highly anticipated albums due out in October.  Here is a summary of what’s new & cool.

2-Oct-2012:

The Mountain Goats release new album Transcendental Youth on Merge Records.  It seems like yesterday when they released their commercial breakthrough album Tallahassee, but that was a full decade and seven (yes, seven) albums ago.  John Darnielle and crew are nothing if not prolific.  Early reports are that the new album finds Darnielle waxing poetic about hopelessness, substance abuse, and the darkness on the edge of town.

I’m now two full decades removed from second-year thermodynamics class, but some of the principles have stuck with me.   The second law of thermodynamics postulates that work is irreversible – for instance, heat can never be converted perfectly into useful work.  The leftover energy in a closed system, called entropy, is always positive and tends to accumulate over time.  This is the basic premise that makes perpetual motion machines impossible.  All of this is a strange jumping-off point for rock ‘n’ roll, but thermodynamics informs the new record by Muse.  The 2nd Law concludes with two tracks, named “Unsustainable” and “Isolated System”, which seem destined to push the band’s sonic envelope even further than the “Exogenesis” symphonic suite on 2009’s The Resistance album.  Muse has made a career out of “us against the world” polemics, so one suspects that entropy might be an apt metaphor for the ever-expanding sense of chaos and disorder and unsustainable growth in modern society. Muse artfully blends the power-trio dynamics of Rush with the fearless epic grandiosity of classic Queen.  Based on lead single “Madness”, it seems that Muse has made good on their promise to follow-up the sexy, modern synth sounds first explored on “Undisclosed Desires”.  A special edition of The 2nd Law is due out a week later, featuring CD, DVD, and vinyl versions of the record plus posters, wrapped in deluxe packaging.

9-Oct-2012:

AC Newman is set to release his third solo set of songs, titled Shut Down The Streets.  The New Pornographers front man occasionally steps away from the day job to exercise his power-pop muscles in a different context.  Judging by the album cover (admittedly an approach which may or may not be a good idea), expect the new album to be infused by a retro 1970’s singer-songwriter vibe.  But will an album supposedly informed by Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” go all out and bring the saxophones along for the ride?

The debut record by hotly-tipped UK quartet Alt-J finally gets a North American release on or around October 9th (reports differ).  An Awesome Wave has collected plaudits back home for its artistic bravery, combining elements of Radiohead’s push-pull electronics, Americana’s strong melodies, and a kitchen sink of world music rhythms.  Depending on the listener, this Mercury Prize nominated record could be an engaging amalgam of styles, or it could also quite easily be an unlistenable hodgepodge.  Your mileage may vary.

16-Oct-2012:

Ben Gibbard knows how to keep busy.  When being the front man for northwestern indie popsters Death Cab for Cutie wasn’t enough, Gibbard collaborated with the likes of Jimmy Tamborello (as The Postal Service) and Jay Farrar (on the soundtrack for a documentary about beat poet Jack Kerouac).  Gibbard has finally chosen to go it alone with debut album Former Lives.  While his vocal prowess sometimes leaves a bit to be desired, the man does have a knack for crafting interesting phrases and melodies.

23-Oct-2012:

For those that like their alt-rock to be cross-pollinated by sparkling synthesizers, Shiny Toy Guns are back with their third album release.  Original vocalist Carah Faye Charnow is back in the band after several years away, which has set the hearts of the many fans of debut album We Are Pilots all a-flutter.  Early reports suggest that III will be more electronic than the first two records, eschewing guitars in favour of a slicker synth-pop sound (think Depeche Mode but with a happier West Coast vibe).

The 25th anniversary re-release of hit album So comes as Peter Gabriel’s ‘Back to Front’ tour criss-crosses North America.  This is Gabriel’s most accessible (and, not surprisingly, most commercially successful) album, featuring bold and brassy songs like “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time”.  The clever videos to promote these songs were MTV staples (side note for the kids – MTV actually used to show music videos all day long.  It was pretty awesome.  Ask your parents!).  “Red Rain”, “Don’t Give Up”, and “Mercy Street” have stayed in Gabriel’s live canon throughout the years.  Album closer “In Your Eyes” was made famous by its inclusion in the Cameron Crowe film Say Anything, and remains the best thing Peter Gabriel ever released.  So will be re-released in various formats, including a 3-CD set with two discs of live material and a half-speed 180-gram vinyl pressing that is already on my Christmas list.

30-Oct-2012:

Lovable curmudgeon Neil Young has teamed up with his Crazy Horse mates to release a second new album in 2012.  Psychedelic Pill is the first album of all-new material with the full line-up of Young, Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina, and Frank Sampedro since 2003’s ambitious Greendale project.  The lead-off track is a song called “Driftin’ Back” which clocks in at a few ticks shy of 28 minutes.  Drugs were taken.

Bonus Content!

The new release schedule for November and December looks like the usual fourth-quarter crap-a-thon of Christmas albums and greatest ‘hits’ collections.  In essence, albums for people that like music but don’t love music.  It may be awhile before the Craven Hermit has any new albums to ‘big up’, so in the meantime here is a pair of very worthy bonus releases that slipped through the cracks in September.

11-Sep-2012:

Jonny Greenwood, lead guitarist for Radiohead, has built a healthy cottage industry of composing motion picture soundtracks.  He has teamed up once again with director Paul Thomas Anderson to write the music for new film The Master.  This is the movie that professes to NOT be about L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology (yes, and George Orwell’s Animal Farm was NOT about Communism).  Greenwood is a master at writing off-kilter, moody pieces of music that seem claustrophobic and dischordant yet still manage to add tension and context to the moving pictures on screen.  If you liked his spooked, minimalist work in the film There Will Be Blood, you should also enjoy this new project.

25-Sep-2012:

R.E.M.’s fifth record was their last for record company IRS, and its success was perfectly timed.  Document broke the Athens, Georgia band wide open, promoting the college indie stars to the upper echelon of worldwide superstars.  Singles like “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” and anti-love song “The One I Love” still feature prominently on alternative rock radio today.  Deeper cuts, like “Exhuming McCarthy” and “Disturbance at the Heron House” showed that their mainstream breakthrough didn’t come at the cost of the band’s collective conscience.  This newly released 25th anniversary edition includes a remastered edition of the original album, plus a cracking & snarling live disc from their 1987 European tour.

The Show Must Go On

In the wake of last weekend’s tragic incident in Toronto, Radiohead posted an update on their website Dead Air Space earlier today:

Hello everyone,

As you will probably have heard the roof over the stage collapsed at our show in Toronto killing crew member Scott Johnson and injuring three other crew members. The collapse also destroyed the light show – this show was unique and will take many weeks to replace. The collapse also caused serious damage to our backline, some elements of which are decades old and therefore hard to replace.

Whilst we all are dealing with the grief and shock ensuing from this terrible accident there are also many practical considerations to deal with & consequently we have to try and reschedule the following shows:

June
30 Roma Hippodrome Capanelle

July
1 Firenze Parco delle Cascine
3 Bologna Arena Parco Nord
4 Codroipo Villa Manin
6 Berlin Wuhlheide
7 Berlin Wuhlheide
9 St Triphon Carriere des Andonces

We aim to announce the new dates for these shows on Wednesday 27th of June and will also supply information on how to obtain refunds on tickets if you cannot come to the show on the new date.

We will start playing live again at Les Arenes Nimes, Bilbao BBK festival and Lisbon Optimus Alive festival.

We will make every effort to offer the fans the very best show possible under the circumstances – thanks for your understanding and support.

Unlike most of the posts on Dead Air Space, this one was unsigned so it’s difficult to tell whether it was from the band or their management.  I would be shocked if a posting this important wasn’t endorsed by the band prior to going live.  Regardless, it does alleviate one of my fears – that Radiohead would stop touring indefinitely.

I suspect the band was conflicted about the decision, much like Pearl Jam after the Roskilde tragedy in 2000.  The purely emotional thing to do would have been to scuttle the rest of the tour.  But as today’s posting hints, ‘practical considerations’ dictate that the show must go on in some modified form.  Signing up for a tour means making obligations to venues and promoters around the world.  Road crews and caterers and management and lighting designers and myriad others all rely on touring acts to put food on their tables.

At the end of the day, Radiohead are a band that depend on touring to make a living.  Touring supports record sales, and a successful tour builds momentum for the next record in a tidy cycle.  It also just so happens that acts like Radiohead bring untold amounts of joy and beauty to the rest of us.  The world would not be the same place without talented musicians sharing their talents.  Not even close.

The next few months will be very difficult for them, but I’m very glad that Radiohead have decided to forge ahead.  It’s likely the best way to honour their fallen friends.

Radiohead Rocks Bonnaroo

News Update:  A tragedy occurred at Downsview Park in Toronto, ON yesterday.  While about a dozen crew members were setting up Radiohead’s stage for a large outdoor gig last night, the roof of the stage collapsed.  According to media reports, one person was killed and three others were injured by the falling debris.  Alan Cross’s blog is reporting that the deceased is 33-year-old Radiohead drum tech Scott Johnson.  It’s an unspeakably dark, heartbroken time for the band, their closely-knit crew, and the music industry in general.

_________________________________________________________________________

Last weekend, Radiohead put on one of their typically epic performances at the Bonnaroo Festival in Manchester, TN.  For a brief time, the entire gig was available up on the web in high-definition glory.  Poking around today, I notice that the festival has blocked the 2-hour 20-minute complete performance video.  However, a few individual songs are still available, three of which are linked below… for now.  It’s enough to give you a vicarious sense of the majestic power and ethereal beauty that makes Radiohead the best band working today.

Radiohead – Lotus Flower (live at Bonnaroo 2012)

Radiohead – Bodysnatchers (live at Bonnaroo 2012)

Radiohead – Give Up The Ghost (live at Bonnaroo 2012)

I dearly wish these guys would officially release a nicely-shot blu-ray concert film.  It would make my whole frickin’ year.  Maybe the lack of an official video is meant to preserve the mystery and exclusivity of needing to see them live in concert.  But in this day and age, with amateur video splashed all across the internet and bootleg video releases popping up in mass-market stores, perhaps there aren’t any more secrets.

The complete Bonnaroo setlist was:

Bloom
15 Step
Kid A
Weird Fishes / Arpeggi
Staircase
The Daily Mail
I Might Be Wrong
The Gloaming
Separator
Nude
Morning Mr. Magpie
Identikit
Lotus Flower
There There
Karma Police
Feral
Idioteque

First encore:
You and Whose Army?
House of Cards
Supercollider
Bodysnatchers
Everything In Its Right Place (w/ True Love Waits)

Second encore:
Give Up The Ghost
Reckoner
Paranoid Android

Found Sounds (Where It’s At)

The beautiful thing about obsessively browsing your local indie record shop is that, once in awhile, you will stumble across something very cool and completely unexpected.  Last Friday was one of those days.

In 1994, Beck Hansen appeared on the mainstream music radar with his debut album Mellow Gold and its ubiquitous hit single “Loser”.  Just two years (and a couple of indie releases) later, Beck followed up his debut with an album that changed alternative music.

Odelay broke all the so-called rules about what a popular record could be.  Released in an era where radio was keen to pigeon-hole artists into specific cavities, Odelay featured a veritable bitches’ brew of sounds and beats.  Listen carefully and you’ll hear a whirlwind of rock, funk, soul, folk, country, bubblegum pop, bluegrass, found sounds, hip-hop, electronica, and a dozen other madcap genres.  It should have been an epic disaster, but thanks to Beck’s underrated songwriting and the Dust Brothers’ brilliant production it flawlessly hangs together.  We still hear echoes of Odelay in alternative rock records today (see also: Radiohead, Eels, Flaming Lips, Kasabian).

Fast-forward a dozen years, and Geffen released a deluxe edition of Odelay on vinyl.  It was an over-the-top celebration of this genre-defying (and yet genre-defining) record, spread across four (yes, four) 180-gram platters.  Sides A, B, and C feature the original record, remastered for vinyl.  The other five sides collate a smorgasbord of rarities, remixes, and B-sides from the era.  Best of the bunch is probably the song “Deadweight” which pointed Beck’s compass in the direction of his excellent but lower-key follow-up album Mutations.  Despite all the sonic goodies, Sides A, B and C will surely have me Rockin’ the Catskills the most often.  I haven’t spun all four discs yet, but the bass and drums on songs like “Hotwax” and “Novakane” sound so good it’s ridiculous.

The deluxe packaging is pretty cool.  The front cover features everyone’s favourite hurdling mop-dog, now embossed with metallic blue doodles.  The twisted collage on the back cover is similarly embossed, complete with the doodle artist’s epithet “Property of Michael”.

The four platters are tucked into individual pockets inside the gatefold sleeve.  Rounding out the package is a large-format booklet containing a short essay by Thurston Moore, a hilariously random interview feature by Dave Eggers, plus lyrics and song credits.  But be forewarned – there is no download code for mp3s of the records! Blame it on the 2008 vintage of the release.

I was very lucky to find this package at my local record shop.  The shopkeeper was astounded that I had snapped it up less than an hour after it first hit the shelves, since it had taken months to bring in.  Call me Johnny-on-the-Spot; my new lucky number is 1614.

On this particular day, my turntable is undeniably Where It’s At.