The Thom Yorke solo album we deserve

Review: Nine songs of stress-electronica, elegantly crafted, and revealing hidden depths, meanings, melodies and anger.

RATING: 3.5÷5

So, anima: a Latin term, once describing breath, soul, spirit, vital force. Then Carl Jung applied it to the unconscious feminine side of a man. Then, repurposed, in capital letters, it emerged as the title of an album whose release was announced barely a week ago.

So, ANIMA: a title from a dead” language, a pioneering early 20th century Swiss psychiatrist, a midnight drop, plus a guerrilla advertising campaign on the streets of Bristol, the leaflets featuring a drawing of a spaceman and the words: Have you lost your dreams? Don’t despair. Here at ANIMA we’ve built something we call a Dream Camera. Just call or text the number and we’ll find your dreams for you.” 

Add it all together and it can only be a new album from Thom Yorke. Or a particularly doomy episode of Black Mirror.

What is the Radiohead frontman telling us with the title of his third solo album? That he’s in love and isn’t afraid to show it? Perhaps – famously and rightfully private, Yorke has begun publicly talking of, and appearing with, his girlfriend, Italian actress Dajana Roncione (who appears in the Paul Thomas Anderson short film that’s being released on Netflix to accompany the album). And at moments on ANIMA there are snatches of what would could be emotional candour. See: Impossible Knots, which has frankly groovy bass and the sound of a man keening and, possibly, swooning.

See also: Twist, anchored by a lovely, acid house-squelch and bounce, with Yorke’s voice fluting and hovering, almost falsetto, the track swelling over its seven-minutes into a warm, mantric rush.

Or, is the hymning-of-her that’s the concept of anima a nod to the fact that we’re going to hell in a handcart, the world pitching into the abyss courtesy of, as per, ur male leaders with their fingers on the button/​Twitter icon?

Certainly familiar Yorke concerns – anxiety, dystopia, jitteriness, we’re all doooomed – seem to abound in this nine-track album buzzing with glitchy electronics, disembodied voices and mumbled imprecations. 

Opening the album, Traffic starts like a behemoth-heavy Massive Attack before the throb and whoosh of synthesisers flood in, with outriders of clattering beats. Show me the money… I can’t breathe… there’s no water…” the lyrics swim into earshot. And, then, talk of foie gras” and a brick wall”, which is either a description of a brutalist Parisian restaurant of the future, or a metaphor for… something. By the end, the harpies have gathered, babbling voices converging round an agitated – and possibly hungry – man.

Then up comes Last I Heard (…He Was Circling The Drain). Domestic terror and/​or urban claustrophobia? Take your pick: Taken out with the trash, swimming through the gutter, swallowed up by… by the city, by the city, by the city…”

Twist recalls the itchy electronics of Radiohead’s Amnesiac, coloured by swarms of multi-tracked Yorkes. It’s a insect-cloud of choral voices.

There are moments of respite and relief to this album, made with long time sympatico producer Nigel Godrich. There’s a thrilling pace and rush to The Axe, with what sounds like steel drums (but won’t be). I Am A Very Rude Person is possessed of (a) a brilliantly wry and self-aware title, and (b) lissom funk that offers the delicious prospect of The Thom York Dance on his extensive worldwide-apart-from-the-UK tour starting this summer.

Dawn Chorus is quite beautiful, a moment of space, respite and colour in an album that otherwise skitters and skids in multiple shades of grey. Yorke’s close-quarter, spoken-word, man-adrift-in-love vocals are ANIMA’s best, too. 

Broadly, though, we’ve got the Thom Yorke solo album we deserve: nine songs of stress-electronica, elegantly crafted and deeply felt and frowning-not-smiling, and sure to reveal hidden depths, meanings, melodies and, probably, anger, every time we go back to it. Which, like moths to a flame, we will. 

How quaint the angst of Paranoid Android feels, 22 years on. Now in 2019, shit has got really real and AMINA is here, the uneasy listening of the summer.


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