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THOM YORKE ANIMA gets 8.5/10


Thom Yorke

ANIMA
XL/Remote Control

8.5/10

Radiohead frontman and the world’s cheeriest bloke Thom Yorke, fresh off his stint as soundtrack man for last year’s Suspiria remake, returns with third solo record ANIMA. It’s his most ambitious and significant solo work yet.

This is a collection of tracks whose snippets and working versions were featured and teased over many years, be it on tour or in standalone performances. Given that Yorke started with fractured musical ideas and songs-in-development, it’s amazing how he’s grafted them into a cohesive whole. This is a concept album of sorts, and the short, Paul Thomas Anderson-directed art film that accompanies it (check Netflix) is a necessary companion piece. Album highlights play over a masterfully choreographed series of sequences as Yorke chases his briefcase after he loses it on his morning commute. The people around him are faceless automatons, tied to the clockwork grind of modern life. There’s a respite as Yorke meets a mysterious woman and they dance through the streets before escaping the hustle and bustle. But they board a bus at the end, leaving one to wonder if they’ve been sucked back into the conveyor. Yorke has said the title ANIMA came from an obsession with dreams, and the way that world events have become dream-like and inconsequential now that we detachedly view them through the lens of our smartphone screen.

Lyrically, then, the album is bleak and dystopian. Yorke’s ideas come as fragments, painting a picture of a world governed by routine. We are plagued by anxiety, and enslavement to money and technology. The palette of sounds Yorke uses throughout reflects this – this is sobering electronic music full of woozy basslines, numbing synths, harmonised soaring vocals and understated, skittering percussion. It also helps that these are amazingly written songs.

Traffic opens the album on a frantic note with foreboding verses that end with the euphoric cry of “but you’re free”. It’s obviously a put-on, as the chorus describes the hedonistic life of a dystopian elite, only free to chase power. Last I Heard comes next and it’s depression across five minutes. Over morphine synths Yorke intones “I woke up with a feeling I just could not take”. The spoken verses describe a nightmarish city with “humans the size of rats”, a striking Yorke take on the urban milieu. The music feels like being anaesthetised, beautiful yet bleak like a depressive’s waking dream.

Twist is a track that’s existed in different incarnations for over seven years and here it finally gets its due. It has an unforgettable, soaring melody that reminds us what Yorke’s voice is capable of. Piano chords crash over jittery percussion as a sea of synth washes the listener away. Yorke comes back in with a beautiful harmonised refrain: “It’s like weed,” he says. You wonder if he’s talking about the parasitic nature of consumerism. It’s heart-rending stuff, and a musical highpoint of this year. The other longform piece here is The Axe. Over disturbing, pitch-shifted synths Yorke once again lets his voice do the heavy lifting. Yorke wants to take an axe to his machines, perfectly summed up in the oft-repeated refrain “I thought we had a deal.” It’s the best lyric on the album. Wasn’t social media meant to connect us? Wasn’t technology meant to make our lives easier, make us happier? Someone didn’t hold their end of the bargain. Or maybe both parties are to blame.

Dawn Chorus sobers us up like a splash of cold water to the face. This feels like being in a medical waiting room facing the reality of a cancer diagnosis. It’s a spoken-word piece encouraging someone to keep trying in life even if they fall into the same mistakes. A heavy air of resignation floats over the whole thing, so bleak that I can’t handle listening to it anymore. Meanwhile, Not the News is powerful, Yorke sounding triumphant even if the lyrics are again utterly dire. It has the best build on the album, sending chills up the spine as rumbling synths and off-kilter orchestral strings enter the mix. It’s equal parts epic and off-putting, the most accomplished bit of production on the album.

This is a deeply depressing album. It is also very, very good. The only soft spot is the inclusion of the more overtly rhythmic songs I am a Very Rude Person and Impossible Knots. They don’t quite fit the flow of the album, even if they’re great standalone tracks. Perhaps it’s because we can finally discern basslines and guitar, dragging us out of the electronically-induced stupor of this masterpiece.

MATIJA ZIVKOVIC

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