Thom Yorke’s output sans Radiohead has been both more dystopian and personal. A mish mash of jittery electronics and claustrophobic vocals; it’s as if he was creating these songs locked away in a darkened room with no windows or signs of life to speak of. Trapped with nothing but a laptop and a looming existential crisis, Yorke worked out his paranoia regarding both his inner and outer worlds.
His solo LPs are a mixture of stuttering beats, slinky synth lines, and narratives that would feel right at home in a Philip K. Dick novel. Throw in a ghostly piano and Yorke’s fluttering falsetto and you have his 2006 debut album The Eraser. The sound wasn’t a total surprise, given Radiohead’s turn into electronic music at the start of millennium, but it was an expanding on of that sonic realm. On 2014s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes Yorke seemed to delve deeper into himself, so much so that it was hard to hear the point he was making. Admittedly, I liked this album far more than most. For all its vagueness, I liked the distance he put between the listener and himself. It was a more visceral album.
Now we have Anima, Yorke’s newest and best solo album to date. Instead of going the bedroom laptop intimacy route this time, he opens the album up widescreen. His longtime producer and bandmate in Atoms For Peace Nigel Godrich gives the production here the full treatment, allowing strings and woodwinds to intermingle with Yorke’s skittering electronics. These two have perfected their distinct brand of electronic music by now, and Thom Yorke here is the most open, and yes, emotionally available, than he’s ever been.
I’m going to skip right to the best song on here, “Dawn Chorus”. It’s been a song that has lived in Radiohead unreleased songs lore for years, dating back to 2008. Here it gets its LP debut and it’s absolutely stunning. A simple synth line with a wide-eyed vocal from Yorke instantly grabs you. Given the time and age of the track, it’s easy to put Yorke’s real life onto the lyrics. From his separation from his longtime partner and mother of his children, to her death from cancer in 2016, to his new relationship with Italian actress Dajana Roncione, the song holds with it a simple melancholy. From Yorke’s subtle delivery of lines like “If you could do it all again/a little fairy dust/A thousand tiny birds singing/If you must, you must” to the simple production, the song packs a wallop.
Elsewhere, “Not The News” sounds more like a living, breathing thing than just the simple, quaint bedroom electronics of Yorke’s past. A mixture of digital buzzing and orchestral majesty, it’s simply stunning. “Impossible Knots” is a groove-heavy track. Full of tactile clicks and clacks, it sounds like a whirlwind of electro funk. “Runwayaway” closes on droning, delayed guitar lines that are more reminiscent of Neu!’s Michael Rother and Harmonia than Four Tet or Flying Lotus.
Thom Yorke approached his newest opus more like his previous project Atoms For Peace than his past solo albums. It feels more vibrant and of a living thing. His lyrics are more plainspoken and personal, and less like the dystopian poems of the past. Simply put, this is Thom Yorke’s best work in years. With his exquisite turn as composer with the Suspiria S/T last year, Yorke has expanded his sonic palate significantly. Anima is further proof of that.
8.7 out of 10
I cannot recommend enough the Thom Yorke/Paul Thomas Anderson Anima film on Netflix. Anderson has proven he loves a little whimsy in his films(check Magnolia and Fiona Apple’s “Paper Bag” video for further proof.) In this 15-minute short he coaxes out Yorke’s inner Buster Keaton for some truly hypnotic choreography courtesy of Damien Jalet(fresh off working on Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake.)
The visuals captured by Anderson’s camera, mixed with the set pieces and dances make for an engaging bit of dance, cinema, and music.
Yes, of course music.
The film is set to “Not The News”, “Traffic”, and finally the sublime and beautiful “Dawn Chorus”. This works as an extended dream-like sequence showcasing a moody, surrealistic dive into Lynchian visuals and interpretive dance pieces that end up being an emotional search for something we don’t know we need…but we sort of do know.
Anways, watch this. Essential viewing.