Technological angst is not new to Thom Yorke. Both alone, and with Radiohead, Yorke’s music has often grappled with the chaotic, dystopian undertones of a world that’s modernizing at a frighteningly rapid rate. With Radiohead, Yorke’s apocalyptic visions have yielded an ongoing string of masterpieces, but as a solo act he’s been a bit spotty. 2006’s The Eraser was fine but seemed firmly in Yorke’s comfort zone; 2014’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes was far too jittery, and it ended up being a slog.
His new record, ANIMA, on the other hand, is easily his best solo work to date. With longtime producer Nigel Godrich by his side, Yorke’s most overt dive into electronic textures since The King of Limbs nestles his wispy voice and some ghostly synths into an insistent, post-techno thump.
Songs like “Traffic” and “Twist” bury themselves into firm grooves, with knocking percussion and warbling bass. The former’s lyrics are both nonsensical and cutting, where Yorke can “party with a rich zombie” one second, and be gasping for air in the next. The latter is a heady 7-minute tour-de-force, and arguably the most dance-floor-ready track here, guided by Yorke’s fragile falsetto and some inventive vocal snippets.
Elsewhere, the percussion reaches fever pitch on “Impossible Knots,” where a racing drum loop collides with this slick bassline for an immediate highlight. The closer, “Runwayaway,” opts for a slower build, working itself into a groove that brings to mind the title track of Kid A.
Yorke’s wry sense of humor is still impeccable, as a song titled “I Am A Very Rude Person” would suggest. One of the simpler songs on the record, the way Yorke says “I’m breaking up your turntables/Now I’m gonna let your party die” is alone worth the two minutes that preceded it. On “Not The News,” he cues “sliding violins and sympathy,” a nice relief from the maelstrom of apocalyptic blips and pings that ring in the background.
At the core of ANIMA lies its one true outlier, the long-fabled “Dawn Chorus.” Yorke called it his favorite song he’s ever written all the way back in 2009, and it’s been a part of Radiohead lore since, like when it was the name of the distributing company for their 2016 record, A Moon Shaped Pool. Bleary eyed and drifting in empty space, it’s a sobering, gorgeous centerpiece, backed only by a few gentle synths in suspended animation.
On an album dedicated to forward momentum, “Dawn Chorus” is the moment that stops everything in its tracks. It’s a stunning high point, on a record that continues to justify Thom Yorke’s status as a fearless innovator.