Pin It
Screenshot 2019-06-27 at 13.00.03

What you need to know about Thom Yorke’s new album, Anima

The Radiohead frontman’s third solo album is his most ambitious and honest one yet

It’s 2019 and Thom Yorke is still sad. No stranger to the narcotised rhythms of everyday living, his new album ANIMA – co-produced by longtime collaborator Nigel Godrich and accompanied by a short film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson – is everything you’d expect from the Radiohead frontman, whose instantly recognisable sound seems perpetually balanced on the edge of both beauty and despair.  

Over the last 20 years, Yorke has fine-tuned his unique (and increasingly self-referential) compositions, dabbling in a multitude of side-projects, including his Oscar-nominated score for Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria and a swathe of orchestral arrangements for classical sister-duo Minimalist Dream House. Earlier this month, he projected cryptic adverts onto London landmarks for (an alleged) company called Anima Technologies that claims to recover lost dreams with a mysterious dream camera. “Do you have trouble remembering your dreams? Just call or text the number and we’ll get your dreams back,” it read. What followed was ANIMA.

This third solo album feels like Yorke’s most ambitious and complete project to date. While his previous works 2006’s The Eraser and 2014’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes felt at times bitty and claustrophobic, ANIMA is like a fever dream sprawled with Yorke-isms: there are references to bleak, futuristic landscapes, looped mechanic pulsations, lyrics that hint at unreturnable pasts and empty presents, stream-of-consciousness, and the list goes on. Here’s what you need to know about it. 

TECHNOLOGY IS STILL BAD

A lot has changed since the release of Radiohead’s Ok Computer in 1997. Gone are the pre-millennial days of buying your first computer, dialling onto the internet and no social media. Today’s rampant technology use is complex and finessed (we’re living in a post-internet age, if you haven’t already heard), and ANIMA reflects this. On track ‘The Axe’, Yorke spits, “Goddamned machinery, why don’t you speak to me?/One day I am going to take an axe to you”, and, “You bastards speak to me/Have you no pity? Give me a goddamned good reason not to jack it all in.” A similarly nihilistic approach is taken in the amusingly-named ‘I Am A Very Rude Person’ (which is, let’s face it, the Thom equivalent of say, Yeezy’s ‘Love Kanye’), where he sings, “Breaking up your turntables/Now, I’m going to watch your party die”. Conclusion: computers are still not ok. 

IT’S ALL ABOUT DREAMS

It’s already common knowledge by now that Yorke is obsessed with dreams (just think of earlier tracks like ‘Daydreaming’ and his fevery-dreamy compositions for Suspiria). But if the mysterious adverts across London weren’t a resounding giveaway, this album title is. “The reason it ended up being called ANIMA was partly because I’m obsessed with this whole dream thing. It comes from this concept that (psychologist) Jung had,” he told Zane Lowe in a Beats1 interview earlier this week. 

Listening to the album, you can’t help but compare Yorke’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics to late-night, hypnopompic scribblings in a dream diary (or the blurred recording of an Anima Dream Camera). On track ‘Twist’, he croons, “A boy on a bike who is running away/An empty car in the woods, the motor left running”, while in ‘Last I Heard (He Was Circling the Drain)’ – a track that Yorke wrote in a state of jet lag between the UK and Tokyo – he sings, “I woke up feeling that I just could not take/Taken out with the trash, swimming through the gutter, swallowed up by the city, humans the size of rats.” A well-seasoned Radiohead fan will already be familiar with Yorke’s lucid ‘dream state’ style of songwriting – it’s arguably one of Yorke’s most definable characteristics – but with ANIMA, it all feels to be taken just that little bit further.

DAWN CHORUS IS FINALLY HERE

Back in 2009, Yorke mentioned ‘Dawn Chorus’ during a fan interview as being his favourite song he’d written for Radiohead. But the song was never released. Fast-forward to 2016 and Radiohead announced it would be forming a company titled Dawn Chorus LLP, ahead of the release of album A Moon Shaped Pool. While it was widely assumed by fans that the track would feature on the album (the term – usually describes birds singing at the start of a new day – was brought to life at the beginning of track ‘Burn the Witch’), it never came. 

Well, after ten years, it’s finally here. And it’s definitely worth the wait. Pulling comparisons to ‘Daydreaming’ and ‘Glass Eyes’, the synth-laden track – that is one of Yorke’s simpler compositions – sees the artist reflect on the ghosts of his past life. “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,” he sings in a hushed, low-register voice. Like many of Yorke’s softer ballads, Dawn Chorus rests in the space between nostalgia and regret: a farewell to what has already passed. As the song builds up, and the synthesisers crescendo, birds start chirping – and just like that, it’s over.

SOCIETY IS STILL FUCKED

The accompanying short video for ANIMA, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, begins in a bleak futuristic cityscape. Of course, anyone who’s familiar with Yorke’s back catalogue will instantly recognise this as a familiar theme across his work. From his very beginnings on The Bends with tracks like ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ and ‘Killer Cars’, and practically every song on OK Computer, it’s clear that (for Thom, at least) we’re living in a societal dystopia. 

The album begins with ‘Traffic’, a techno-inflected track augmented with mechanical hums and glitching beats. “Show me the money/Party with a rich zombie/Such it through a straw/Party with a rich zombie,” spits Yorke against a backdrop of looped drum beats. The lyrics draw parallels to the anti-consumerist cry of ‘Paranoid Android’ and Hail to the Thief (“Sit down, stand up/Walk into the jaws of hell,” sings Yorke in similarly Orwellian 2003 track ‘Sit Down. Stand up’). ‘Traffic’ continues: “It’s not good/It’s not right”.

OLD FRIENDS ARE BACK

Remember Atoms for Peace? The Yorke-fronted supergroup, consisting of Godrich, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, percussionist Mauro Refosco and REM’s Joey Waronker, came together in 2013 for funky-sounding album Amok. And while the record itself wasn’t met with much critical acclaim, it seems that the old crew is back, with members Godrich and Waronker both contributing to ANIMA. Even the way Yorke wrote the new album draws parallels to the freeform, improvisational methods used to create Amok. According to a recent Crack Magazine interview, Yorke sent “completely unfinished, sprawling tracks” to Godrich who made the loops and samples heard on the tracks. Even Radiohead drummer Philip Selway performed on track ‘Impossible Knots’.