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Five albums that Radiohead (might've) listened to while making A Moon Shaped Pool

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After the speculation over their tax affairs, grumblings about their microscopic UK “tour” (and decidedly macroscopic ticket prices) and a spike in Americans googling Trumpton last week, Radiohead’s ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool, finally arrived on Sunday night. Depending on what you read, it’s anything from another autopilot snooze-a-thon from a band who last sounded relevant in the dog days of the 20th century to a stylish rejuvenation after the flimsy King Of Limbs, and their most cohesive album since Kid A.

Regardless of where on that spectrum A Moon Shaped Pool truly lies, though, what feels immediately apparent is that while Radiohead’s latest record is most in thrall, like most of the band’s recent output, to Radiohead, the band are sporting their external influences more flamboyantly than usual here. Then again, perhaps that’s to be expected: the burgeoning peripatetic excursions of the various members has confirmed modern-day Radiohead more as a group of musicians who sometimes record together than as an indivisible unit. Accordingly, the absorption and assimilation of other people’s music into their own sound-world isn’t as seamless as in days gone by.

Not that that’s any bad thing, necessarily. The time when Radiohead seemingly existed entirely in a vacuum was thrilling but occasionally disconcerting. By contrast, with A Moon Shaped Pool, there are more concrete touchstones with which to frame and enrich the record. With that in mind, here are five records that, judging by the sound of their latest efforts, might have made their way onto the studio hi-fi during the album's creation, and which – even if they didn’t – will complement any playback of one of 2016’s biggest releases.

1. Air – 10,000Hz Legend (Virgin, 2001)

Air’s second album proper saw the French band being accused of “doing a Kid A”, in ditching a tried and tested formula for something bolder and more totemic, even if their finished product bore little relation, sonically, to Radiohead’s. However, 15 years on, one of the most striking sonic elements of A Moon Shaped Pool is its Airiness: the second half of Decks Dark, with its darkly slinking drums and bass groove under taut rhythm guitars and massed wordless choir, has all the hallmarks of Air’s gallic interpretation of prog. Similarly, The Numbers’ neatly strummed and brightly produced acoustic guitar alongside glassy synths resemble less the anxious Warp Records stylings of Radiohead's early electronic experiments and more the sort of lounge exotica that Air made their own at the turn of the century.

2. Beck – Sea Change (Geffen, 2002)  

When Burn The Witch appeared on YouTube last week, much was made of Jonny Greenwood’s string arrangement, with its col legno percussion and surging polyrhythms in hock to Polish modernist composer György Ligeti, as well as its likeness to Greenwood’s scores for Paul Thomas Anderson’s last three films. And while Ligeti’s Piano Concerto could well have been doing the rounds at Radiohead Heights in the past year or so, the rest of the string parts on‘A Moon Shaped Pool seem drawn from a source far closer to home, in the shape of Beck’s wonderfully downbeat Sea Change, itself produced by long-time Radiohead collaborator Nigel Godrich: there, as here, strings swoop in unison around vocal lines with none of the gruelling atonality of Greenwood Jr’s soundtrack work. Indeed, both albums’ orchestration could plausibly be traced to Serge Gainsbourg – a far, louche cry from the tense, unyielding world of Penderecki, Messiaen et al.

But it’s not just in its arrangements that A Moon Shaped Pool finds kinship with Sea Change: a beautifully consistent fug of resignation clouds both records too, full of both heartbreak and cynicism. That both Yorke and Beck separated from long-term partners during their respective writing periods is perhaps telling.

3. Talk Talk – Laughing Stock (Polydor, 1991) 

The final Talk Talk album was a fraught, drawn-out, minimalist album of barely whispered lyrics, jazz chords and mournful, distant orchestration – which, fair enough, could describe pretty much every other Radiohead album since OK Computer. But what A Moon Shaped Pool draws from Laughing Stock is a beautifully delicate, refined approach to using space in an album, allowing mutations of tempo, rhythm and volume (or the absence thereof) to sustain the interest when a simple melody would feel too bulldozing: Desert Island Disk requires just a fidgety acoustic guitar and washes of bells, and Glass Eyes’ ripples and eddies swell in the way a Radiohead song hasn’t truly since How To Disappear Completely.

4. Jim O’Rourke – The Visitor (Drag City, 2009)

An exquisitely recorded 40-minute-long instrumental piece that veers from tinkling pianos to Broadway musical interludes and from country skiffle to polyrhythmic drone jazz remains one of the most intricate records of recent years, produced so as to feel utterly like a studio construction, the product of countless precision overdubs. The same airtight crispness is all over A Moon Shaped Pool, and nowhere more so than on True Love Waits, the record’s gossamer finale. The song has been Radiohead holy grail for 20 years, repeatedly reimagined and fetishised in concert bootlegs (and once breathing semi-official air as an acoustic bonus track on the band’s live EP), but here they ditch all live-performance charades and adopt O’Rourke’s approach. The result is something so hermetically sealed, remote and profoundly pure that it becomes the perfect palate cleanser, refusing to deliver any knock-out punch and opting instead for a wonderfully defiant sense of calm poise.

But it’s not only there that that The Visitor’s spectre looms. That album’s elision of multiple styles into an abstractly joyful and coherent whole, and a fullness without bloat, are both a trump cards that A Moon Shaped Pool can match.

5. Radiohead – The King of Limbs (XL, 2011) 

If Radiohead’s last record felt underwritten and overmixed – a collection of rather plain songs trying to mask their own simplicity with studio circus tricks – it still feels like the nearest neighbour to A Moon Shaped Pool, and in hindsight something of a springboard to the current album’s lush, richly-realised and cohesive tone. Tracks which were left as aimless doodles on The King Of Limbs are presented here as full, nuanced and sensitive pieces: the hooky, tetchy electronics of Ful Stop is the sort of thing that would’ve festered immaturely on The King Of Limbs; equally, in Identikit it seems the band have remembered how to let songs grow, with its nervous beginnings blossoming into an insidious climbing weed.

In the context of the Radiohead cannon, there’s never been much love for The King Of Limbs. In hindsight, though, it might’ve simply been an essential step in making an album as articulate and complete as its follow-up.