Here at Sounds of the Dark Side we have always been massive Radiohead fans. Yet, for some other reason, a sort of “Radiohead-fatigue” hit us after the pay-what-you-want download of In Rainbows (2007). We lost interest to blindly buy album after album but still kept following the band from the sidelines. From here saw that they kept cementing their already vast legacy ever since.
We got back on track in late spring when we learned that some people stole a few minidisks with 18 hours of unreleased material from the OK Computer recording sessions. In order or cut themselves free from the $150.000 ransom the thieves apparently demanded, the band promptly placed the sessions online for fans to download.
Shortly after this breaking news Thom Yorke also released a brand new solo work titled, ANIMA, which frankly did not spark our interest at first because his first solo record The Eraser (2006) never held up to the work he already made with Radiohead. Also his involvement in the supergroup Atoms for Peace never reached in the center of our radar. ANIMA however was accompanied by a short film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson that popped up in our Netflix recommendations just the other day (apparently, we are still are a target market…). Anyway, we fell for it and Anima was on the centre of our radar so we consequently decided to give Thom Yorke a fair chance to convince us this time.
If anything becomes clear from the start is that ANIMA is a trip into the world of dreams, tranquil ones and violent ones that is. Dreaming has been a regular part of the work of Thom Yorke and/or Radiohead in de past. That doesn’t mean however that ANIMA is a simple continuation of what came before. In many ways ANIMA is a strong stand-alone album that can be heard without any knowledge of Yorke’s backstory. Yorke got captivated by the question what happens when we sleep, why dreams can revive us or break us down and took this a starting point for the nine songs on this album.
ANIMA’s start reminds heavily of Kid A and Amnesiac. Opener ‘Traffic’ kicks in with a warm hypnotic synth on which Thom Yorke vocals seems to float on. Yorke signs “I can’t breathe […] there’s no water” and about being ‘submerged’. ‘Traffic’s’ murky, slowed-down dance music is an entrance to a restless dream that’s deepened on ‘Last I Heard (…He Was Circling the Drain)’. Here the electronica gets more organic feel. Yorke’s voice is manipulated into a layered, counterpoint-based choir making in an already deadly serious dream feel even more deadlier. The song blossoms in darkness after the bassline drops while Yorke enters a stage of nightmares singing about “humans the size of rats”. The terror reaches a high point on the short vocal samples of ‘Twist’.
Then from nothing ‘Dawn Chorus’ stabs in a dagger of relief. The gradually analogue synths create a spacious ambient setting in which Yorke addresses his more introspective side. The placement of the tranquil ‘Dawn Chorus’ on ANIMA is kind of tricky because it breaks the tension building that started on ‘Traffic’. Nevertheless ANIMA keeps on progressing. From the catchy vocal harmonies on ‘I Am a Very Rude Person’ we enter the stage of REM sleep on ‘Not The News’. With a constant in-and-out pulsing heartbeat cutting through agular synths, Yorke asks: “Who are these people?” As the track moves on and sonic template keeps building up around him, Yorke becomes more and more paranoid. Eventually the template traps him and completely submerges his voice.
Tension is brought back in full on ‘The Axe’. Blurry drum computers and lingering synths create an abstract atmosphere for Yorke to play around in. Bits and pieces of classic song structures slowly come together and merge in the last minutes in a bold yet still spooky finale. Surprisingly ANIMA becomes slightly groovy near the einding. ‘Impossible Knots’ is a fairly straightforward and maybe even danceable track with African rhythms in it. Yorke’s singing however prevents it from becoming a full out dance track as he keeps the lead by pushing through his familiar melancholic voice between the baselines, and thus keeping it under control. ANIMA ends with keys, strings and guitars on ‘Runwayaway’ which brought together feels like a carnival. A very gloomy carnival that is. On ‘Runwayaway’ a mixture of dark messy guitar lines, beats and gloomy synths is filled out from underneath by a creepy choir that is led by a pitched up Yorke who eerily keeps repeating: “…that’s when you know who your real friends are”. Hmm, for an ending that is not really comforting, is it?
If anything ANIMA is much more than the next impressionistic take on house music. The fragmentation and detail on each track have been carefully designed making it the best work he released under his own name. Without his band Yorke freely floats between a state of confusion and the internal dialogue of the subconsciousness. ANIMA is brilliantly restless yet doesn’t always feel like a whole. Few tracks, such as ‘Dawn Chorus’ and ‘Impossible Knots’ have an illogical place on the album.
Thom Yorke’s third solo effort could very well be among the best at the end of the year. For starters we promise to stop the cold-shouldering and bring back Yorke, Radiohead, et al. to the place they belong: that is, the centre of our attention.
Label: XL Recordings, 2019
- Traffic (5:17)
- Last I Heard (…He Was Circling the Drain) (5:06)
- Twist (7:03)
- Dawn Chorus (5:23)
- I Am a Very Rude Person (3:44)
- Not the News (3:57)
- The Axe (6:59)
- Impossible Knots (4:19)
- Runwayaway (5:56)
Review by Wander Meulemans // 150819