Review: Thom Yorke — “Anima”

This release here was brewing for years. Similarly to A Moon Shaped Pool, Thom Yorke’s third album finally puts down long-anticipated tracks onto a proper release.

The essence of the album is similar to what Thom has been doing for ages: pushing his own brand of EDM inspired by Warp Records onto a fanbase that is kind of used to it at this point. On Anima, he employs a much more “pop” approach to this with memorable hooks and song formations but retains certain coldness from his previous album Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes.

A lot of the album is built around loops. Loops that have been kicking about forever. Twist, for example, was a thing Thom made for Rag & Bone earlier this decade and has been transmuting ever since. There is even a small bit on the same track that sounds like a sample from the Matrix Music School children’s choir that was previously featured on Radiohead’s 15 Step years ago. Thom dug deep through his sample library.

Dawn Chorus is another matter. Similar to Burn The Witch from A Moon Shaped Pool, the song has been known to exist for years as a part of Radiohead studio material but has never been heard up until the album release. The earliest mention of this one occurred a decade ago. Majority of the remaining material has been a part of his Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes tour setlist starting from the early 2015 shows. That leaves only 2 tracks being brand new and previously unheard off.

Now that we’re done unfolding the archival nature of the tracks, let’s actually talk about the final result.

Anima by Netflix
photo: Netflix

I think Anima turned out pretty good! In short, Thom Yorke and his long-time collaborator Nigel Godrich lay down percussion loops over a bunch of Prophet-6 synth lines with Thom having a blast singing out the entire album from start to end. A lot of the times Thom detunes his synth’s oscillators more so than usual to give it an extra spin, which I very much enjoyed. There are occasional throwbacks to Atoms For Peace’s — other Thom Yorke band — album AMOK, especially on Impossible Knots that has this Flea-like bassline, making it highly reminiscent of Stuck Together Pieces. All the high-pace tracks on this album have that AMOK feeling to them that I just can’t shake.

Tons of themes on the record stay in line with Thom’s constant criticism of the current political situation in the UK, most notably on the opening Traffic, as well as building up this dystopic world of desolation that might be a consequence of this situation. This dream-like break down can also be connected to the entire ‘Anima Technologies’ promo that started the entire roll-out party for the record.

Anima by Netflix
photo: Netflix

The most-talked-about track on the album is Dawn Chorus: a mellow ballad that is driven by a decelerating chord play with an almost spoken-word mantra from Thom. While I think the delivery is very emotional and the instrumental sounds gorgeous, I am not quite keen on the track’s progression. It really feels like it is supposed to build up to something grandiose. Something like an orchestral flourishing akin to Glass Eyes from Thom’s previous album. It just never happens though, leaving me in a state of confusion. It might have grown on me a bit after seeing the Paul Thomas Anderson-directed short-film companion to Anima, but not by much.

The centerpiece on here is Twist. Building off the original ‘twistwistwistwistwist’+percussion loop, Thom developed the track further by adding lyrics and a gorgeous second section of the track that almost sounds like a separate composition. The gorgeous piano with Thom’s ghost-like banshee vocals in the back sends shivers down my spine. A very well executed piece.

Anima by Netflix
photo: Netflix

One of the true standouts on the record is the closer Runwayaway that has this lazy electric guitar riff opening it up. The guitar tone, probably an Epiphone Casino, is similar to what he used in live performances solo and with Atoms For Peace. It gives off this almost stoner rock-like haze in its nonchalance. I can even hear some reminiscent hints of the little jam he usually did at the end of the live performances of Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses.

The instrumental on the closer to me is the most surprising thing on this album and features sound textures I wouldn’t really expect from Thom.

Overall I enjoyed this album. It has a character of its own, even though the entire sound of it is similar to Thom’s previous projects. I just wish there was a bit more variety with a set of more drastic sound changes outside of the closing track.

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