ANIMA manifests a brand of bleakness that Thom Yorke has begun to master since his first solo effort in 2006, The Eraser. 2014’s follow-up Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes took the dystopian flavour one step further, but its instrumentals too often meandered into the grey. In contrast, the immediate reaction to ANIMA is just how wonderful the record sounds. Indeed, it’s mixed and produced beautifully, demonstrating Yorke’s anxiety with the current political landscape to excellent effect.
Musically, not a whole lot has changed, though Yorke certainly sounds more assured here than ever before. Nigel Godrich’s contributions go a long way in filling the void of Radiohead’s other members, and his presence is a huge positive. This is the most distinctive sound the duo have produced so far. The depth in sonic texture is overwhelmingly good, and thankfully there are a handful of left-field moments to keep listeners on their toes. This is particularly important given that ANIMA is guilty of drifting throughout much of its duration. Closing track “Runwayaway” is a certain standout for this reason alone: whereas most songs revolve around a sole musical passage, ideas are flinging back and forth here. A curious way to conclude the album, but one that works surprisingly well.
Still, as much as I relish the overall sound of ANIMA, I still occasionally pine for something more songful. “Last I Heard (…He Was Circling the Drain)” personifies the album in this sense, settling on a sinister sound that immediately captivates those with an ear for dystopia, yet not really developing on that sensation throughout its five-minute playtime. Despite the significant progression that has occurred since The Eraser, ANIMA would surely benefit from a “Harrowdown Hill”. It’s easy to say that song structure is one of the main struggles, but that would be a disservice Yorke and Godrich’s writing process. This is deliberately difficult to love.
The centrepiece of ANIMA comes in the form of “Dawn Chorus”: one of Yorke’s most affecting ballads (if you could call it such a thing), and one of the lyrical highlights of his illustrious career. Yet, for some reason, I find it often passes me by upon a full listen of the album. Whereas other tracks are overwhelming in their bold and beat-heavy textures, “Dawn Chorus” is relatively barebones, and I’m not convinced that ANIMA accommodates the track as well as it should. As a standalone song, it’s as inspiring and beautiful as it is utterly devastating. I cherish its presence, though — like much of the album — I sadly struggle to love it.7 10
Favourite tracks // Twist
I Am a Very Rude Person
This is a Thom Yorke solo project. I listen to it and I think, ‘Yep, this is a solo Thom Yorke project.’ There are bitty drum machines, shivering synthesisers, dissonant keyboards, and a whole lot of tender harmonies. You land slap bang in the middle of that world and stay there for 50 minutes.
I do prefer this to Yorke’s debut solo effort The Eraser, an album which mostly makes me thankful Radiohead exists to get the best out of him. ANIMA has the Yorke’s classic oddball jumpiness, but there’s some really fluid sounds at play too. The production is top notch, and I expect the wanderings are pleasant enough to leave most fans satisfied. Does the album surprise and delight? No, but it does please.
The standout tracks are by far and away “I Am a Very Rude Person” and “Twist”, which both make a step into genuine groove land. Most of the record stays within familiar limits though. Thom Yorke is under no obligation to explore new sounds, but I’d sure like it if he tried.6 10
Favourite tracks // I Am a Very Rude Person
Unsurprisingly at this stage in his career, Thom Yorke is not looking to cater to new fans. ANIMA is everything you’d expect from a Thom Yorke album. Agitated beats tick along with evolving, cavernous pads waxing and waning track to track. Meanwhile, Yorke’s vocals take centre stage, often mournful, always comfortable in their setting.
But ANIMA does have a tinge of warmth, the likes of “Dawn Chorus” and “Not The News” have warm lush arrangements of electronic and organic instrumentation that really hit the spot. And while the latter does provide a pounding, sub-centric beat, the former is awash with bright synths that ebb and flow at the edges of the track.
That’s largely where I stop with key moments on this record though, because while “Twist” is no carbon copy of “The Axe”, which in turn is no clone of “Runwayaway”, a lot of its 50-minute play time is a dense forest of layer building. Beautiful as it is, it becomes hard to see where you are through the thicket.
At times ANIMA soars, making for some of the best moments of Yorke’s solo career. As a whole, ANIMA is beautifully polished, feeling cohesive, lush, and grand, but it doesn’t give me a lot to remember. The presence of the accompanying short film does make me wonder whether this is more soundtrack than LP, as the short was by far the most memorable part of this release. In isolation, however, I’m less certain of its longevity.6 10
Favourite tracks // Not the News
I Am a Very Rude Person