Thom Yorke follows up his soundtrack to Suspiria with his third official solo album. Produced by longtime collaborator Nigel Godrich, ANIMA is a trip into the deep recesses of sleep. Simon Tucker reviews.
Sleep is the ultimate moment of self trust. A pure state of vulnerability where you body is intending to recharge. For many though sleep is a hellish state. A place either unobtainable or once there riddled with the extremities. Sleep can be tranquil and it can be violent. Sleep can be sensual and hysterical. This is why the subject has long been poured over by academics and artists. What exactly happens when we sleep and why does it have the power to totally break us down or rebuild us? It is of no real surprise then that Thom Yorke has now fully honed in on the subject. He’s got previous with this sort of thing of course. Via his work with Radiohead we have had (Nice Dream), Go To Sleep (Little Man Being Erased), the ambient Treefingers and the last Radiohead album A Moon Shaped Pool which was drenched in the ambience of dream-states.
Sleep offers us many a duality and can often drag in various moments of the past and knot them together in your dreams. It is this last point that is vital to the understanding of ANIMA as it feels like Yorke (and his co-conspirator Nigel Godrich) have created a work that tugs on certain threads from all of his solo work, sewing them together to create what is his richest, most romantic and slightly disturbing album to date.
Much like A Moon Shaped Pool felt like a perfect summation of a certain period of Radiohead’s career so does ANIMA and what is truly exciting is that listening to it for a few times gives you the true sense that Yorke, at 50 years of age and well into his recording career, can now springboard into any direction he chooses. This is not only a underlining of a past but an arrow to the future.
For all the talk of “dystopia” and anxiety in the build up to the album’s release ANIMA’s strength lies not in the skittering beats and usual Yorke falsetto snaking through the melody lines but in the fullness of its sound. The scaffolding created by Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is still in tact but now there is more meat on the bones making it a much more rewarding listen than its predecessor. There’s a deeper atmosphere surrounding the songs making it a quintessential headphone album.
From the very beginning ANIMA offers us a nod and a wink to a past life with Yorke caught on microphone saying a simple “yeah” which instantly sends the memory back to the beginning of Everything In Its Right Place on the live album I Might Be Wrong. Traffic is the adult Brain In A Bottle from Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. Far more confident and striking up a dub strut rhythm, Traffic connects the head to the hips and as shards of instrumentation fill the gaps you feel the first taste of the anxiety mentioned earlier as Yorke signs “I can’t breathe / there’s no water” and talks of being “submerged”. As the track progresses you get a whisper of what sounds like two drumsticks clicking together echoing the main percussive element to The Eraser’s And It Rained All Night. The past creeping in to the present.
As we sink further into the album with Last I Heard (…He Was Circling The Drain) it feels like Yorke is still trying to cling on to any part of the past he can as the synth chords that strike up the intro are tonally similar to TMB’s Interference but whilst that song was happy to stay in the shadows and to only reveal some of itself via minimal instrumentation, Last I Heard (…He Was Circling The Drain) blossoms over its running time, full of dark energy and voodoo electro blues with Yorke painting the nightmarish images of “humans the size of rats”. This ain’t no party…this ain’t no disco.
One aspect of ANIMA which is a welcome surprise is Yorke’s vocals. There’s plenty of familiarity here with his often used falsetto floating through songs like Twist and Impossible Knots but it is when he drops his vocal register that we find the really heavy emotional connection. I Am A Very Rude Person hears Yorke return the vocal styles favoured on The Eraser and Not The News sees him sing fuller and more dynamic than on most of his other solo output yet there is one that trumps them all…
Dawn Chorus. It is finally here. A song bootlegged from live Radiohead gigs and the name of the company set up by the band to deal with A Moon Shaped Pool, Dawn Chorus has long built up a mythical status amongst fans. When the track list came out there was obvious excitement when this was on there and it really has been worth the wait. You see, Thom Yorke has a habit of making one song a central focal point for an album. With The Eraser you had Harrowdown Hill and with Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes it was The Mother Lode. Dawn Chorus trumps the lot. It has the power to bring you to your knees with its emotional whack. What is particularly moving about the song is not the distant strings and ethereal fractured voices that swim around the main stuttering synth pattern it is Yorke’s lyrics. This is where Thom Yorke’s seemingly abstract lyrics meld into what feels like a conversation between two people. What two people? Well that is completely up to the listener and that is where the emotion gets wrung out of you. One minute Yorke sounds like he is singing to his children (“a little fairy dust” and “come on chop chop”) the next to a partner with one of his most romantic lyrics to date:
“the wind picked up / shook up the soot / from the chimney pots / into spiral patterns / of you my love”
And there it is. The word ‘love’. Dawn Chorus is a hymn to human connections with all their faults and their transcendence. With Yorke cutting up lines making sections feel like one person hasn’t finished what they were saying before the other interrupts “if you could do it all again / yeah without a second thought”. This is where we as listeners place our own relationships into the narrative. A dreamscape love song. Serene, majestic and highly emotive.
The placing of Dawn Chorus only four songs in to a nine song album is a risky move as what follows must sustain a sense of importance and whilst nothing else matches the emotional heft of it ANIMA still has plenty more to offer as I Am A Very Rude Person lounges in like a stray Atoms For Peace song crashing the party but ending up one of the better guests. Then we embark on another main highlight of the album with the tech-glitch Not The News getting us moving again on a bed of squelch and another strong vocal before The Axe announces its arrival and takes us through a myriad of sequences that feel like one of Yorke’s best mashing up of classic song patterns with the abstract electronica he is so found of. As he waves his fist at writers block blaming the machines he normally creates on Yorke declares that he thought they “had a deal” sounding like someone who is dismayed that the very things that helped him get out of one set of circumstances with Kid A are now not coming to his aide once more. Another peak behind the wizard’s curtain.
Dragging us back to the land of the living is Impossible Knots which once again feels like an updated and improved version of the songs on Atoms For Peace’s AMOK (and which features a certain Phillip Selway on drums) and closer Runwayaway which proves once again that Yorke has a real knack for closing albums on a high note. Runwayaway is a dark, pulsing trip that features Yorke intoning “that’s when you know who your real friends are”. Featuring piano, guitars and strings this is also the moment Yorke’s Suspiria soundtrack infects the album. Dance to the end for we are not certain of anything.
ANIMA is Thom Yorke’s best solo album and is an album that stands up against some of his work with Radiohead. It is an album that swirls and pulls. ANIMA is also where the partnership of Yorke and Nigel Godrich really find their feet as a duo. There is a confidence oozing through every second of its fourty-eight minute running time and whilst it is unsettling and definitely disturbing in places the main emotion you take away from it is hope. There is a positivity in there amongst the shadows. ANIMA is sexy and slinky and is an album that tells us that when it comes to Thom Yorke not only is he seemingly enjoying some happiness in his life he is also only now really getting started. Chapter One has come to its end so now we reread until Chapter Two makes its most welcome of entries.
ANIMA also comes with a Paul Thomas Anderson directed “one reeler” which is now streaming on Netflix
ANIMA official website
Thom tweets as @ThomYorke.