Thom Yorke's ANIMA Discusses the Future in a Disturbing, but Realistic Light

By Tommy Rodriguez

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Thom Yorke is more than simply the frontman for one of rock’s most acclaimed acts, Radiohead. He’s a world-famous cynic, obsessive over not just his own intuition and ideas, but the turbulent state of the world we live in today. Any number of tweets on the English singer’s Twitter profile will reveal how downhill he perceives the world is going: from climate change, domestic and foreign politics, and music industry folly, he’ll tackle anything he deems important enough to hear.

In the turbulent times we live in today, there’s no shortage of music that reflects the chaotic nature of our day-to-day existence. Rather than tackling the issues themselves in an objective way with name-drops or an ever-present Trump namecheck, Yorke seeks to reflect on his own paranoia and isolation amidst the world’s glorious demise on his latest solo record, ANIMA. Amidst spacey, electronic production and haunting lyrics, Yorke has made dystopian music sound incredibly enjoyable and thought-provoking.

Yorke has dropped the rock-pastiche of his earlier years long ago, especially so on his solo records. Continuing his experimental and electronic production style on ANIMA, Yorke has crafted an excellent selection of grim and alien synthetic sounds that could play as the background to any number of Black Mirror episodes. Opener “Traffic” has an incredible groove to its pulsating synths and hand-claps, sounding as if it could soundtrack a nightclub run by the cyborgs that may take over humanity. Despite its relatively long length (5 minutes, the average song length of the record), Yorke manages to keep listeners engaged throughout with sparse, but colorful imagery of rich zombies and the tragedy of drowning.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Yorke manages to use electronics as an eerie ambience to create a sense of dread and unease on several tracks, hammering home his depressive moods. “Dawn Chorus” is incredibly icy, evoking the image of Yorke overlooking a foggy, corruption-riddled Britain as he reminisces on his mistakes and hopelessness. This song, as with many on the record, constantly evolves, adding new layers of electronics every minute or so to keep the track fresh. For example, “Not the News” is lyrically vague, but the keys and patchy synths are mesmerizing to listen to. In the same vein, the programmed bass line added onto “Impossible Knot” is incredibly groovy.

In terms of vocal and lyrical performance, Yorke has always maintained a great consistency over the years. His crooning matches surprisingly well with the metric ton of synths lathered over these instrumentals, save for the unfortunate vocal effects on closer “Runwayaway.” On this track, his lyrics about friendship fade into obscurity underneath the electronic strings and keys.

His angelic musings on love over the melodious samples and synths of “Twist” are a huge highlight of the album, painting Yorke as not just a fearful man, but a fearful man with a heart outside of his impending doom.

On the other hand, the persona he creates is deeply troubling, delving into uncertainty and suspicion on many tracks. His descriptions of his real-world dreams on “Last I Heard” are downright unsettling, with rat- sized humans scampering about his head as a manifestation of his stress. “I Am a Very Rude Person” excels at portraying Yorke’s “no shit’s given” attitude, as he sings about destroying someone’s life simply to move forward for his own sake. There are a fair amount of times where, lyrically, his persona may be unlikable or even oppressively sad; it’s tough to stand for some of the longer tracks such as the 7-minute “The Axe,” but his character portrayal remains top notch.

Overall, ANIMA is an excellent effort from Thom Yorke. His fears of the future are essential in today’s day and age, where people are now questioning how the rest of humanity will pan out. While it is oppressively nihilistic and depressing, Yorke’s production and lyricism are too layered and perfectionist to not give credit where it’s due. Dystopia hasn’t sounded better in 2019!

Watch the short musical film (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson) that accompanies the album exclusively on Netflix.

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