Published Jun 29, 2019Melancholy and wariness have long informed and defined Thom Yorke's work with Radiohead and as a solo artist, and while we're decades removed from "Paranoid Android," he has made it apparent that these feelings are only ramping up with each day that passes in our present geopolitical turmoil.
Though it was for a fictional scenario, Yorke channelled similar feelings into music for Luca Guadagnino's Suspiria, pulling him out of the world of laptops and DJ sets to provide a literal widescreen vision with which to pair his compositions. Fittingly, third album, ANIMA, arrives alongside an accompanying short film, and sheds the largely one-dimensional production of The Eraser and the monochromatic moods of Tomorrow's Modern Boxes to stand as Yorke's richest solo effort to date.
The textural depth of ANIMA grips, unlike past solo outings, and is ultimately even more rewarding when played on headphones. Continued butchery of vocal samples and rhythmic synths open "Twist," before smears of keys and bold piano crashes propel the song to new, maximalist heights. The blinking electronics of "Not the News" round into greater form, with heavy reverb and dramatic strings, burying a subtle resampling of a drum part from Yorke's Atoms for Peace band. The harrowing layers of "The Axe" offer a droning sense of dread before drums and bass guide it to a quieter conclusion.
Yorke's lyrics, shorter and more pointed in comparison to past albums, give little hope in tandem with production. "Last I Heard (…He Was Circling the Drain)" speaks of being "swallowed up by the city" and "swimming through the gutter," while "Twist" provides the image of "A boy on a bike who is running away / An empty car in the woods with the motor left running."
Yorke's delivery of "you're free" on opener "Traffic" is warped in almost taunting fashion, while his recurring "I thought we had a deal" on "The Axe" rings out despondent. On ominous closer "Runwayaway," his pitch-shifted voice advises, "this is when you know who your real friends are."
Album centerpiece "Dawn Chorus," a long-gestating song-turned-shell company finally fleshed out for release, finds a reserved Yorke singing plaintively of regret over minimal keys. It's a musical reprieve, certainly, but also ANIMA's most emotionally devastating moment. (XL)