June 27, 2019

Thom Yorke - ANIMA Review

Thom Yorke - ANIMA Review

Thom Yorke - ANIMA Review

For an artist as inventive and mysterious as the lead singer and frontman of Radiohead, Thom Yorke has made a name for himself as a compelling creative force by carving out a diverse portfolio of a solo career, which has become a solid separation from the alternative rock group that made him world-renowned. His debut solo release, The Eraser in 2006, proved to the community of Radiohead fans that his work was intriguing and beautiful enough to stand on its own, and his following release, 2014’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes proved more of the same as an elegant, but mellow sophomore effort. Not only was Thom interested in his solo work, but he ended up forming his own side act out of his lineup who toured in support of The Eraser, which took the name after his track in that album, Atoms For Peace. They released their own album, AMOK, a year prior to Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. Last year, Thom Yorke surprised his fans yet again with his first stab at film composing, with the horror remake Suspiria’s original score (my review of which you can read here), following in the footsteps of his bandmate Johnny Greenwood’s multiple film score outings, and reaffirming to the musical community that Radiohead’s music, as well as the work of the singular bandmates, is essentially designed and paired astonishingly well to visual storytelling. Now, just a half a year since his film score debut, Thom drops another sonic work of brilliance in the form of his third solo album, ANIMA. Besides being an extremely busy creative force, releasing albums on his own, with Radiohead, and his first film score, ANIMA shows listeners that Thom is far from slowing down. On the contrary, his musical journey only seems to expand even more with age, and this latest work of the imagination and dreams displays his masterful musical experimentation with grace and fluidity. 

In putting this together this record, Thom experienced a sense of writers' block, which, given his output within the past year, can be hard to fathom. His recent comeuppance only indicates a burst of creativity, but knowing the general themes of Thom’s music, whether it’s anxieties about the world or feeling like an alien amongst other humans, he effectively channeled that energy into what listeners have before them today. ANIMA is a reference to the work of psychotherapist Carl Jung, who describes the term as being the part of the human mind that dives inward to the subconscious. Thom’s fascination with dreams also relates to this as ANIMA was supported with a viral marketing campaign which consisted of posters advertising a made-up organization called Anima Technologies, a company who claimed to retrieve forgotten dreams with a dream camera. The telephone number provided, when dialed, played a prerecorded message stating that the company’s operation had ceased and that the government had seized its assets. The themes of anxieties, dreams, and dystopia, as a result, play a big role in Thom’s third solo effort.  

The composition and recording process of ANIMA’s varied electronic tracks were born out of live sessions, and close collaboration with longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, who has played a crucial role in Radiohead’s sound since nearly the beginning of their formation. Thom would send Nigel a mass of recorded material, and he would then cut and edit bits and samples out of the long-winded recordings. The resulting sounds would then be turned back over to Thom who then used them to create ANIMA’s songs and vocal arrangements. The frenetic live nature of these compositions can be heard most on tracks like Twist, which uses Thom’s delayed vocal murmurs as a rhythmic element, Not The News which builds layers of synthesized loops and melodies, and Impossible Knots, a track with live drums taking the place of the electronic drum kits used in most of the album. Thom even references dancing feet in Not The News, as well as “breaking out the turntables” in I Am A Very Rude Person, as Thom has hung up his guitar to perform a live DJ set in rare circumstances. Because of the hooks in his repeated vocal effects, melodic synth loops, and overall trancelike nature of each of his songs, it is quite possible that Thom Yorke made an album that’s as close to his version of an electronic dance record.

The album opens with Traffic, a highly atmospheric dance number, which starts with Thom's casual vocal "yeah." His opener is spacious and the electronic drum kit resonates with a vivid spacey synth bass. It's the first sign that this album is going to be lively and unlike his previous solo offerings. Some of the synth swells and the catchy bass loop can catch some fans off-guard since this is the most energetic thing he's done since Identikit off of Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool. As Thom has dealt with his anxiety, it seems that he's turned that anxious energy into a catchy danceable opening tune, and it ends with an unmistakable EDM synth sequence. Last I Heard (...He Was Circling The Drain) opens with a symphonic melody that sustains throughout the track, which contains tonal echoes of last year’s Suspiria. Thom sings about cities as if they’re living organisms, repeating that they will eat you alive. “It only takes a minute, and it takes, and it takes,” he moans as the incessant scratching builds in the beat and drives up the energy in a very haunting way. It is symphonic and aurally nerve-racking, making it the most Eraser-like track of the album.

Twist starts off with Thom's repeating of the word of the track, which stutters and creates the basis of the song's beat. He uses a distort-effected sample of a group of children’s cheering, something recognizable that they used in their opening track 15 Step, from their 2007 masterpiece, In Rainbows. Essentially 2 parts, Twist changes form halfway through and plays its electronic drums alongside sustaining piano chords. The previous chaos descends in favor of a grand orchestra of swells and synths, much akin to Radiohead's grand aesthetic that they apply in various songs of theirs. Dawn Chorus, likely a contender for one of the album's issued singles, minimizes the noise and puts the spotlight on Thom and his electric piano. It's slow and moody and can hit the heartstrings if you lower your guard. It crescendos into a beautiful choir that accompanies him on his bittersweet sonic journey.

I Am A Very Rude Person fades in as Dawn Chorus outros, with a scraping, sound byte beat. Thom's vocals are cool, calm, and collected here, and they are again showing Thom's perfect diverse arrangements and deliveries up until this point in the album. Not The News is a heady space jam that eventually spreads to the whole body when Thom sings. When it comes to how the songs are put together, Not The News especially has a very full and satisfying sound to it. The space is filled with enough sounds and emptiness in between that raises the production value tenfold over the production style of his previous album. This track runs directly into The Axe, a buzzing builder of a track, as Yorke brings the mood back down akin to the tone of Last I Heard. This is another anxiety-ridden track, as Thom sings, "Goddamn machinery, why don't you speak to me? One day I am gonna take an axe to it." and later asking "I thought we had a deal?" It's Thom's distrust and lack of faith in technology that comes to a head in The Axe. His thoughts of where technology is taking the world and what might eventually contribute to our dystopia are also the thoughts of leaders and citizens across the world.

Impossible Knots, complete with Radiohead drummer Philip Selway’s “sped up” drums, sounds like something that came out of the band’s studio sessions for The King of Limbs thanks to its fast live percussion. Thom's falsetto croons in this one will satisfy any Yorke solo naysayer, and it shows that he doesn't have to be completely electronic as a solo artist. Runaway caps off a highly energizing and groundbreaking album beautifully, as echoing guitar notes fade in, which seem to signal an eastern and world music influence as its hazy, meditative atmosphere swells. Before long the trancelike beat kicks in, with an alien-like voice repeating “this is when you know, who your real friends are.” It is a haunting message wrapped in an otherworldly infectious beat.

As a complete work, ANIMA is a symphonic, electronic, dance, trance album by Thom Yorke, and while I expected the first two descriptors, it is a welcome surprise and a breath of fresh air to get the last two features as well, especially after the experimental, but slow-burning Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, and last years brooding, orchestrated piano symphony, Suspiria. This addition to his ever-expanding catalog solidifies Thom as one of the treasured creative geniuses of our time, and it’s a wonder that a man who made commercial fame with a track titled Creep in the early 90s is still to this day even more relevant than he’s ever been!

This album even has a companion short film of the same name, directed by filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson (of Johnny Greenwood collaborations such as There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread) debuting on Netflix on this same release date! The ambition involved in a musician using film as a storytelling vehicle should make ANIMA all more special to fans of music and film alike. Radiohead and Thom Yorke’s music for decades has always seemed to belong in films, and they have the track record to prove it. This album will go down as another pin of successful musical invention, and as one of the reasons Thom Yorke isn’t going away anytime soon; if he ever does, it’ll be because he is in full control and decides to stop making music entirely.

ANIMA - 9.5/10

Recommended Tracks: Traffic, Not The News, Impossible Knots