‘Give me a goddamned reason not to jack it all in’ Thom Yorke sings on The Axe. Yorke may find some solace in the results of his fourth solo effort, ANIMA. Working again with producer Nigel Godrich, Yorke has honed his electronic sound. The songs have an energy and drive which is new to Yorke’s solo work. Inspired by his interest in sleep and the unconscious, the album explores alienation with the modern world and paranoia in a collection of songs which forms a highly listenable, and at times moving, mosaic.
The formula remains similar to albums The Eraserand Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes in its fundamentals. Processed beats and synths are overlaid with Yorke’s discordant musings on a damaged world. Could there be a risk then that Yorke, so long a pioneer in alternative rock, is playing it a little safe?
A comparison with his previous work, 2014’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, suggests not. That record’s soundscape had a frighteningly claustrophobic feel. Imagine listening to Kid Afrom ten feet underwater and you’re nearly there. The track Pink Sectionsounded like a swarm of bees amassing round your head at a funeral. By contrast, ANIMAis beefier, more expansive and the song-writing more ambitious. There is definite progression here.
The standout is seven-minute epic Twist. This began life as two songs, Twistand Saturdays, which Thom would often play into each other during live shows. The transition is marked by a piano’s decisive appearance around the four-minute mark, which augments a rattling drum beat, before synths swell upwards. Yorke paints a lonely picture down below, ‘A boy on a bike who is running away. An empty car in the woods with the motor left running’. His rejection of his outward appearance, ‘Look, this face, it isn’t me’, puts the emphasis on his inner self, his anima.
Yorke’s delivery here, using a lower register than we’ve seen in recent work, is thankfully typical of the album. The thin, high voice he deploys in Unmade, of Suspirium,oron much of Radiohead’sA Moon Shaped Pool (see True Love Waitsor B-side Ill Wind), is nowhere to be found. Instead, he’s almost speaking over the music, allowing the beats, painstakingly cut up and re-packaged by Godrich, to do much of the talking.
The gentle humming pulse of Dawn Chorus’s synth follows Twist. Written originally for Radiohead during the In Rainbowsyears, this houses the album’s most affecting lyrics, which are made prominent by the song’s simple construction. First, Yorke recalls the city-worker monotony of No Surprises, ‘You quit your job again, and your train of thought’, then becomes tenderly sentimental: ‘If you could do it all again? Yeah, without a second thought’. Finally, he envisions ‘spiral patterns, of you, my love’. In Yorke land, this is disarmingly romantic.
But Yorke never strays far from thoughts of paranoia, and these emerge in menacing, Burial-esque closer Runwayaway. After an intro of ambient guitar noodling, a voice whispers incessantly, an urgent warning, ‘Thisis when you know who your real friends are. Who your realfriends are.’ It’s very creepy stuff, but a provocative glimpse into the nature of a disturbed mind.
There’s some less-than-stellar songs here too. The opener, Traffic, doesn’t really go anywhere, and the squawking synths of Not the Newsgrow wearisome quite quickly. The drum beat of I Am a Very Rude Personis also rather monotonous, though possibly reflects the uncaring, insular persona of the speaker. ‘You don’t mean a thing, but it won’t bother me’ this character sings to himself. Change up the beat to please the listener? Never!
As though the music weren’t enough, the album is accompanied by a one-reeler film of the same name directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, released on Netflix. Starring Yorke,this three part essentially modern dance performance, choreographed by Damien Jalet, is overlaid by three ANIMAsongs, Not the News, Trafficand Dawn Chorus. We initially seean army of commuters robotically twitching and marching through cavernous underground spaces. The protagonist, one of their ranks but on a mission to rescue a bag that’s gone astray, is sucked into their at turns pathetic, exhausting and menacing routines. Eventually he is released, waking on top of a drain. For the final five minutes he rediscovers his humanity to the warm sounds of Dawn Chorus, twirling with and playfully embracing his partner, played by Yorke’s girlfriend Dajana Roncione. This touching and heartfelt scene is a window on carefree intimacy which few must have thought Radiohead’s frontman would ever choose to create.
ANIMA, with Yorke’s other albums, sits in a niche Yorke has made entirely his own. By virtue of Yorke’s lyrical input, it’s more emotional and personal than Aphex Twin or Autechre but just as delicate and carefully produced. Much of the Radiohead fanbase was never won over by Yorke’s previous solo efforts, but ANIMAis more accessible and more human – there is hope yet. For those who enjoyed The Eraser andTomorrow’s Modern Boxes, ANIMAbuilds on them, as Yorke recommends in Dawn Chorus, ‘this time with style’.