Thom Yorke - ANIMA - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Thom Yorke - ANIMA

by Tim Sentz Rating:9 Release Date:2019-06-28
Thom Yorke - ANIMA
Thom Yorke - ANIMA

The Radiohead frontman has traditionally had a hard time keeping his fans interested in his solo work between his main band's work. In the past, albums like The Eraser and Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes have felt like quaint distractions between Radiohead albums. Something to hold you over until the real stuff comes along. Since The Eraser dropped three years after Hail to the Thief, and a year before In Rainbows, it came at a time when the anticipation was fever pitch for new work. As such, the response to The Eraser was muted. Here, we had a critically acclaimed man taking a path towards more electro-pop with songs like “Black Swan” and “Analyse” To its credit, The Eraser is a fine album, though it holds no candles to the masterpieces that came before and after it.

When Yorke dropped Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes in late 2014, again, three years removed from The King of Limbs, and a year and a half away from A Moon Shaped Pool, it was met with a shrug, despite it’s tantalizing usage of abstractions. Boxes was Yorke at his most unrestrained, devoid of any semblance to Radiohead. It was a challenging record, one that a majority of his fanbase rejected as anything more than him playing around in his studio. The unfortunate part is that Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes is actually a decent record. So is The Eraser. But Yorke’s latest outing, the “surprise” release of ANIMA is unquestionably Yorke’s crowning achievement as far as his solo work is concerned. Not only is ANIMA a merging of his two previous records, but it also hints at promising things to come not just for Yorke alone, but the direction Radiohead might be going in as history tells us the solo efforts from Yorke have influenced the next album.

ANIMA soars because of how long Yorke allowed it to gestate. A lot of these songs have been making the rounds in his live performances for years - “I Am a Very Rude Person,” “Not the News,” “The Axe,” and “Impossible Nots” were all performed throughout his tours since the release of Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes. Over the years he’s made several tweaks, based in part to the influences he drew from Flying Lotus and his experimentation with loops. “Traffic” finds Yorke’s vocals combining with the music, unlike his previous albums, it’s cohesive. All over ANIMA there are callbacks to Radiohead, like on “Last I Heard (He Was Circling the Drain)” we can pull the synths and somber tone directly from Amnesiac’s more extravagant moments. ANIMA represents a culmination of everything Yorke’s done without Radiohead for the last decade or so, managing to silence the critics of his last album, and push himself into a very chaotic place - one that is rich with a vibrant and unpredictable pulse.

The major highlight here is of course “Dawn Chorus,” a presumed Radiohead song that the band played live back in 2008, and Yorke had claimed it to be his favorite unreleased Radiohead song. Speculation continued in 2016 when the band opened a company called “Dawn Chorus LLP” months before A Moon Shaped Pool was dropped. Here, in all of its glory, “Dawn Chorus” finds Yorke in a comfortable stasis of regret. It’s simple in its execution, but powerful because of how personal the lyrics are from Yorke. Celebrity status comes with the constant analysis of your personal life, something that Yorke pressed through when his long-term relationship fell apart. “Dawn Chorus” carries so many interpretations that it’s anyone’s guess what it all includes. But it’s one of the more tender moments for Yorke that can’t be ignored on ANIMA.

“Dawn Chorus” may be the most attractive thing on the surface, but ANIMA’s core belongs to “Not the News,” a sprawling track that feels culled from the same fires that Nicolas Jaar uses for his masterpieces. “I Am A Very Rude Person” could be mistaken for a Radiohead cut, so it finds a safe haven here as one of the more upbeat and approachable tracks. “The Axe” is one of the longer songs on ANIMA and its punctuated by In Rainbows-era sampling. But this isn’t rehashed ideas or B-sides - every song on ANIMA feels carefully crafted, and it’s felt throughout. Yorke nurtured these songs for years and you can tell. 

Most modern mainstream rock frontmen have a hard time making the transition to a successful solo career. Maynard James Keenan of Tool/A Perfect Circle struggled with his Puscifer work, arguably churning a handful of misfires over the years. It’s safe to say that Billy Corgan hasn’t made a great record under his solo belt, or basically anything since the first demise of the Smashing Pumpkins, and the less we say about the late Chris Cornell’s solo career the better. Yorke manages to avoid the pitfalls, and rebound from Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes with his best effort to date. ANIMA contains all of the pop moments one would expect but weaves them in with these abstractions that come off surprisingly powerful. It’s unquestionably his best album.

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