Thom Yorke’s work with Radiohead has already assured his position as one of this generation’s most prized voices, but alongside this his solo excursions have gradually built into a universe of their own. 2006's ‘The Eraser’ was a bold, paranoid look at a country collapsing into dystopia, while subsequent work alongside Atoms For Peace and frequent co-conspirator Nigel Godrich have perhaps come close to matching his day job in scope and ambition.
Despite this ‘ANIMA’ in many ways feel like it exists on its own, in a solitary void. Stylistically, it draws on Thom Yorke’s electronic impulses, on his attraction to club culture’s more fractured, introspective elements; tracks bleed in and out of one another, with the over-arching structure leaning on the DJ set as a central spine.
‘Traffic’ opens with this barbed wire mesh of electronics, as foreboding as it is entrancing. Never allowing itself to settle, the jittery, continually in flux music absorbs Thom Yorke’s distorted, keening vocal, with only fractured phrases getting through: “Show me the money…”
‘Last I Heard (…He Was Circling The Drain)’ opens amid an Impressionistic take on house music, the fragmentation giving way to the sudden drop of a bassline. It’s playful, but deadly serious. ‘Twist’ utilises a short, fluttering vocal sample, recalling Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’ but in a much more modern context.
Indeed, the fluttering electronics eventually settle to reveal a gentle guitar line, its spider’s web of sound hurling itself across the digital dystopia. “Just enough to go around,” Thom sings, at once warmed by the results and pained by the consequences.
‘Dawn Chorus’ arrives in near ambient climes, the tumbling analogue synths worthy of Brian Eno’s 70s output, or even Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. It’s a spacious bed for one of the most direct vocal performances on the album, a moment of pure introspection: “Back up the cul de sac / Come on do your worst / You’ve quit your job again / And your train of thought…”
But ‘ANIMA’ refuses to sit in one place for too long. ‘I Am A Very Rude Person’ is all purring vocal harmonies, Thom Yorke’s repeated vocal assertions taking on the feeling of a string quartet. There’s a sense of those early 70s Can recordings at work here, the neatly cyclical bassline pushing and pulling around the haunted lead melody.
‘ANIMA’ thrives on the relationship between the analogue and digital, with ‘Not The News’ fusing its opening heartbelt pulse with some beautifully etched programming. “Who are these people?” he asks, with the simple sonic template gradually rising in intensity around him, until his voice is gradually submerged.
‘The Axe’ is a blur of deeply percussive digital ticks, at once random and impeccably designed. Indeed, it takes almost four minutes before ‘The Axe’ resolves itself into a song, with the rush of a drum kit hitting in a deeply physical fashion, in part due to what precedes it.
‘Impossible Knots’ picks up on this rhythmic bluster, before adding a bassline half-inched from the Fela Kuti catalogue. And here it sits, this block of sound, this concrete groove, as synths wash over it, and Thom Yorke’s voice resonates throughout, pleasingly cautious in its stubborn lack of elasticity.
Closing track ‘Runwayaway’ tumbles into sight with a messy array of guitar lines, the vocal pitched up to a child-like, almost cartoonish element. “This is when you know,” the voice states, “who your real friends are…”
And then there’s this bell chime, exceptionally beautiful and incredibly simple, that sounds more than a little like Four Tet. The mutual influence of collaborators? Or does the lyric point to an actual, specific moment of studio kindness from Kieran Hebden?
It’s a bold, stirring, unexpected, and mysterious finale to a record that thrives on a beautiful state of confusion. It’s not a personal record – there’s little here that could possibly be tied explicitly to Thom Yorke’s own life – but it is a highly musical one.
The process seemingly thrived on capturing ideas when they were half-finished, and this ruptured, fragmented approach gives ‘ANIMA’ its character – tearing down productions, reigniting processes, this is a wild, careering feast of sound.
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