Thom Yorke - AMINA

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Being the front of arguably the greatest rock band in the world since the late 90s, Thom Yorke hardly has anything to prove. But whether it was Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool (2016) or this latest solo record, Yorke is still finding ways to produce vital, essential music, refusing to settle into a stage of stagnation. Reinvention has been Yorke’s brand his entire career, whether it be the shift into the abstract after the massive success of “Creep” or Kid A’s game changing shift into left-field electronica at the peak of Radiohead’s success as an alternative rock titan.

In most recent years, Yorke has fully embraced his interest in IDM and  oblique electronic music; most notably on his collaborative Atoms for Peace project and his last 2014 solo record, Tomorrow’s Modern Harvest. But up until now, those projects felt underdeveloped, playing as an outlet for Yorke to explore his musical interests that didn’t quite fit on a Radiohead release. ANIMA, his best solo album to date, is where it all comes together. For the first time, a non-Radiohead Yorke release stands up to the magnitude of the band that gave him his fame.

ANIMA, released without much warning, is bleak and distraught for its majority, exploring Yorke’s typical themes of anxiety in the face of modern societal decay. But there is a redemptive quality and a hopefulness that sets this apart from his most unnerving dystopian assessments. ANIMA possesses a dreamlike quality with fluttering pcokets of sound drifting from every direction. And as ethereal as these songs are, there is also a very physical element to it, one that pulls Yorke’s out-of-body ponderings back to earth. Many of these tracks will be slaying dance floors for months to come. Take for example the opener“Traffic.” While deceptively sparse, just a few squelching synthesizers and jittery drum machines forming the main skeleton of the track, Yorke shows a remarkable understanding of subtlety and dynamic shifts to craft a club stomper with nuance. Lyrically, Yorke pieces together a series of images to highlight criminal levels of income equality masked by consumerism.  Another densely textured dance tune, the glitch heavy “Twist” makes use of some clever vocal samples to further disorient its acid-drenched rhythms.

 Breaking up the dance-heavy sounds are a few more somber moments. Making up the centerpiece of the album is “Dawn Chorus.” It’s a pure triumph for Yorke and one of the most beautifully haunting songs of his career. Lyrically, it is perhaps the most direct statement of loneliness and isolation he has ever put on record. There is an overwhelming sense of longing and loss hanging onto every line: “You quit your job again and your train of thought, if you could do it all again a little fairy dust.” The entire song is built on a simple, repeating synthesizer line. But on one very specific moment addressing a lost love of his, this pattern changes into a subtle, affirming climax. It’s enough of a big moment to offer some respite, but it’s downplayed enough to not take away from the deep melancholy Yorke is throwing on the table.

 ANIMA sounds like the album Yorke has wanted to make for years now. Recalling back to some of Kid A’s best ideas, he updates his approach to speak to this current period of his life almost twenty years later. Each track is an intricately textured look into Thom’s deep introspection. Yorke’s previous solo efforts have been criticized, and deservedly so, for being a bit too dour and meandering. But Thom here has a clear purpose for each note, each damning moment of sound, as he leads the listener on an evocative, disastrously gorgeous journey. It’s not In Rainbows, but this is the closest Yorke has come by himself to reaching those impossible heights.

 

Grade: A

Matt Marciniec