Experimental restraint, at its best
From the earliest days of his career, Thom Yorke has continuously established himself as one of the most progressive artists of his time. His ability to endlessly reinvent his music is a testament to his versatility and commitment as a musician. The radical success that Radiohead was (and still is), is only one part of his impact on the music industry. From the explosion of Ok Computer to the colour of In Rainbows, Radiohead solidified Yorke’s spot at the top, but in no way did it define him. In more recent years he has proven various aspects of his solo capacity, with collaborative projects like Atoms For Peace, Minimalist Dream House, the Suspiria soundtrack (Luca Gaudagnino) and three solo albums, each a way for Yorke to experiment, to rebel and to inspire. With a reputation and repertoire as profound as this, Anima, his most recent release, had high expectations, and as usual, it delivered.
Anima is Thom Yorke’s best solo record to date. The album is a celebration of what he does best, and it takes great awareness for an artist to hone in on their own capabilities as deliberately and emotionally as this. Anima is, at its core, an electronic album, in the gentlest of ways, with qualities that only Yorke can combine so effortlessly, and is a style that only he has developed so well.
The album is driven by synthesisers and electronic rhythms, as well as Yorke’s tingling vocals. The record opens with “Traffic,” and the words, “submit, submerged.” These two lyrics so simply set the precedent for the rest of the album, inviting listeners into a journey of sound.
“Last I Heard (… He Was Circling The Drain)” is a stand-out track off the album. It begins with a contrapuntal layering of falsetto vocals. The lines are unmatched and don’t seem to follow a regular or similar rhythm, but somehow they make sense together, and would not work so well were they not arranged in such a sprawling manner. It feels like the musical equivalent of waves on the beach or walking around in circles. Interspersed with a relentless bass line, synthesised strings and many sound effects, all these elements come together so vividly and elegantly by the end of it. Confusion has never made so much sense before.
“Twist” is one of the more rhythmically driven tracks on the album, bringing in high pitched notes that Yorke reaches in his own, unique way. It’s also the longest track off the album and indulges in all the ways one wants it to.
“Dawn Chorus” feels like the centre-point of the record. It is the record’s soul, it’s anima, and is arguably one of the best things Yorke has ever done. It is uncharacteristically simple and unlike Yorke, but that’s what makes it so strong. The vocal line essentially follows one-note, sung in the lower register and the chord progression has this stunted effect to it, which again, is so simple, yet so clever. The rhythms and the sounds carry on in this way until the end, in a stoic yet uplifting way. Lyrically, the track looks at what it means to be given a second chance in life, and how one could do things differently “if you could do it all again, this time with style.” There is such newness in his restraint, such sensitivity in his words, and it’s beautiful. This is Yorke reinventing himself, once again, and if it’s any indication of where he’s going, it’s beyond hopeful.
“Not The News” follows on similarly from “Twist,” and compositionally is one of the more experimental tracks on the record, making use of distinctive synths. It may divide certain listeners, and tends to lack a bit of direction, but in no way does Yorke get lost in it. Tracks like “The Axe,” “Impossible Knots” and “I Am A Very Rude Person” follow a more traditional composition, and are more neutral. They’re the catchier songs off the album, which again may not be to everyone’s liking, but these are also the songs that listeners will certainly go back for.
Anima sees Thom Yorke grappling with his own emotions, and the environments he finds those emotions playing out in. He sings about his “goddamn machinery” that won’t speak to him and fighting off urges to take an axe to the sodden technology surrounding him. He speaks about being eaten up by it all, about being tied up by impossible knots and about finding reasons “not to jack it all in.” His music feels like the rebellion against it all. His music is rebellion, and Anima proves that. It proves that a musician can find success in today’s industry while still staying true to their sound and their ideas. Thom Yorke is a relentless musician, uncompromising in every way and unafraid to make music that is honest, real and above all else, his own. Anima prevails just as he does, and always will.