review

Paranoid Music Box: Thom Yorke's ANIMA Album Reviewed

Thom Yorke’s latest solo offering, ANIMA, sounds like the personal sequel album to Radiohead’s shock and awe masterpiece, Kid A.

Kid A was the national anthem that radically broke the music industry with it’s bold departure. It created a seismic shift that reframed the narrative of not only Radiohead, but it was the singular popular music album that signaled the end of rock and roll as we knew it. It burned the guitars and familiar drum textures in the dumpster out back, and replaced the familiar sonic palette with bloops and bleeps. With cut and paste lyrics that turned humanity into a machine and twisted it so far that the humanity and intention came back out through the speakers. It was a brilliant effort of smoke and mirrors piping directly into our collective ears. Minds were melted. A statement was made. 

And it’s one of the last “rock” albums we all definitely point to. The last hurrah before Napster, before streaming, before we had a million songs in our pocket. Before Steve Jobs changed the world. Kid A was a record of intent of a certain time and place. A shared space.

If Kid A was meant to ironically dominate stadiums filled to max capacity, ANIMA is the same artist, and longtime producer Nigel Godrich, working from hotel rooms and basement studios, intended to go directly and personally out to each of us. Through headphones. Starting intimate conversations and picking up threads. Weaving shared textures.

Call it chill-paranoia. A cousin of the paranoid-android sci-fi branch of rock pioneered by Yorke and Radiohead bandmates. Here, the discomfort in our modern times comes even closer to home. In paired down, minimally backed electronic tracks, Yorke croons and meanders in melodic and sedated tones. He sings of regret, disconnection and the fragility of our so-called shared experience. His lines, sharply written as ever, elucidating truths that we all feel but maybe haven’t articulated for ourselves. Yet when Yorke pulls his lines through the gentle ecosystem of beats and loops, the sentiment hits home.

ANIMA is filled with dream imagery. Upon first listen, it has the sensation of someone waking up from a dream and being forced to deal with a startling new reality. Slowly observing and then reckoning the change in atmosphere from a lost time.

The album’s opening track Traffic, crystalizes this awakening with tonal clarity. The track pulses in as Yorke’s disembodied voice calls out “Yeah.” The first command comes “Submit” followed by “Submerged.” Then comes world play with “Nobody and No body” an incantation to the avatar filled world we anonymously find ourselves drifting through—submerged. We then move immediately into a crystal clear thesis “It’s not good. It’s not right.” And then two more bits of stark imagery “A mirror. A sponge.” In this shattered poetry, Yorke establishes the setting and atmosphere. 90 seconds in, the characters have emerged. 

But then comes a line that straddles hope and irony “But you’re freeeeeeeeee,” Yorke lilts, letting the last syllable roll out and come undone as a chorus of machine-like applause rings out. The bass doubles down.

From here its terse verses and turns of phrase roasting elitist pigs, or apparently “zombies” now. Yorke muses on as the beat sustains. It’s all very dystopian—what else could it be—but there is also a brightness that coarses through the album. It’s as though, three albums into a “side-project” solo career, Yorke has found a sense of mission. A clarity of purpose.

On ANIMA, Yorke and Godrich paint from the same palette they’ve been using since Kid A, however there is a refinement and sophistication here. It suggests that perhaps this is not so much a side project, as it is a alternate project, or a legitimate Thom Yorke vehicle. Worthy of attention, not just as a restless oddity from a creative soul, but as a document of admiration in its own right.

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Below Thom Yorke discusses ANIMA and how his creative process has evolved over the years: