Review Summary: I think I missed something, but I'm not sure what.
"Do you have trouble remembering your dreams？" Amazingly, that's not a Thom Yorke lyric but rather a line from the Alternate Reality Game advertising which preceded ANIMA
. It was a silly but fun sci-fi thing which plastered posters everywhere from the London Underground to Milan claiming to have invented a device, the Dream Camera, which could "get your dreams back", instead playing a snippet of "Not the News" when the number was called. As usual, Thom's use of humour is disguising something very real, in much the same way that Radiohead's bleakest and dreariest moments are often their funniest. If A Moon Shaped Pool
was a grand spring clearing-out of Radiohead's backlog that doubled as a heartrending farewell to Thom's former partner, Dr. Rachel Owen, ANIMA
acts as the ripples of that action, taking stock of the changes big and small that a life-shattering event like that impacts upon you and everyone around. It's a brief still point of contemplation for a man who's been creating unrelentingly for the past four years of his career.
But all of that is subtext, at least on first listen, where the listener will be preoccupied with ANIMA
's shifty, wrongfooted energy. As these tracks have been floating around live for five-six years (a short pre-release life for a Thom Yorke track, all things considered) it's not a huge surprise that they feel of a kin with 2011's perennially underrated, brilliant The King of Limbs
. Decentring himself in favour of the groove is a strange choice for Yorke to make on an album bearing his name, but emboldened by Suspiria
's instrumental soundscapes, that's what he does for half of ANIMA
. Sped-up drums from Philip Selway power the propulsive "Impossible Knots" while angular, jutting stabs of synth noise dot the landscapes of "The Axe" and "Not the News". It's a surprisingly catchy album, with "Traffic" and "Not the News" boasting hooks that would have offered themselves as singles had the album been promoted traditionally. Yorke is as suspicious of technology as ever, even contemplating taking an axe to his computer, yet he's never been shy of using it to enrich and enliven his music - Radiohead's central paradox writ large again here. It's not hard to hear the benefits of both this, and a live production period where Yorke's band tested out each song on the road, improvising or just watching them evolve into the final recordings we hear. ANIMA
is fuller-blooded and bolder than either previous solo effort or A Moon Shaped Pool
, shaking off their gloom and grimness for something approaching energy. The breathtaking "Twist" is the closest thing to a club banger you'll ever hear from this man's pen, although a sensual melody transforms the second half of the song into a Burial-influenced space of haunted, cavernous sounds, where Yorke wrestles with horror-movie lyrics and reflections of himself.
That's the trick which keeps ANIMA
from losing itself in the beat-heavy, extroverted exterior. The Thom Yorke of 2019 has a newfound openness which endears him to us in a way the famously reticent singer never has in twenty-plus years. A song like "Last I Heard (...he was circling the drain)", initially lost between "Traffic" and "Twist", gradually unfurls itself as a stunning portrait of depression which dramatises the constant looping of thoughts around the protagonist's head; the repetition of "I woke up with a feeling I just could not take", each bleeding slightly into the next, a thoughtful and subtle marriage of subject and form. Meanwhile, as "Twist" runs down it appears to address depersonalisation/dissocation: "this face, it's not me" hauntingly loops around the second half as the song decays beneath. Many listeners will consider these songs spiritual sequels to the likes of "Daydreaming" and "Glass Eyes", with their uncomfortable and honest depictions of the same. But the song which will come to define this album, if it hasn't already, is "Dawn Chorus". As with the likes of "Codex" and "Videotape", some of Radiohead's best, the decision to leave the song as simple padding keys and unvarnished vocals heightens its impact by some degrees. We've come to expect glumness from Yorke at this point, but "Dawn Chorus" unexpectedly alights on a moment of such sweetness and clarity that it throws the rest of the album – hell, the rest of Yorke's decade in music – into sharp relief.
"In the middle of the vortex, the wind picked up
Shook up the soot from the chimney pot
Into spiral patterns of you, my love."
The tenderness is bolstered by the gorgeous Paul Thomas Anderson movie for Netflix. Over the opening strains of "Dawn Chorus", Yorke finally unites with his real-life partner Dajana Roncione for a sweet, encircling dance through streets and parks, choreographed by Suspiria
's Damien Jalet. Of course, it's all most likely a dream. At the end Yorke closes his eyes on the subway, ready for another day of brusque personal encounters ("I Am a Very Rude Person"), distrust of technology's ever-advancing pace ("The Axe") and borderline menacing doubt of those closest to him ("Runwayaway") - the album thereon is essentially sequenced as a gradual descent into Yorke's paranoia, isolation and digital anxiety. For one brief moment, though, he's a silly kid in love like all the rest of us have been; it's a beautiful conceit to normality and simplicity which enriches everything around it.