Like just about everyone I went kind of mad on Radiohead in the mid-1990s. There was something angry, anxious and acutely pained in their music. They were also articulate, smart and still somehow proper fuck off rock n’ roll. This hard to find acoustic version of Creep from the Itch EP sums up their unhyped humanity screaming umbrage into the void as a way of getting by. It remains visceral and sits alongside a long lost acoustic version of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here in my personal canon of strong, honest, and deeply affecting songs.
My Radiohead sweet spot spanned 2 exciting years of music starting with the smash & bash of The Bends and into 1997’s OK Computer which considered a fast world speeding up and the false promise of technology. Then they crashed that particular plane, and pulled the origins of singer Yorke’s synthetic obsession out of the air crash on 2000’s Kid A.
If OK Computer was Radiohead witnessing a tech tsunami build on the horizon, if it was a lament of all the things we’d lose, then Thom Yorke’s latest, ANIMA is life long after the wave crashed over and the machine drowned everything.
I began listening 8 weeks ago and first impressions weren’t great. It felt rambly and inarticulate with a lack of rhythm. The 5th track, Dawn Chorus was the worst. Just mumbling over synth. But I’m old enough to know 2 things: 1 is that i’m a slow listener, and music takes time to sink in & reveal itself, and 2 is that Thom Yorke is fucking good at what he does.
So after a couple months I’m ready to move on but I can say that ANIMA has become the soundtrack for a distinctly depressed time in my life and that it’s an album I’ve come to value as good company; as a great and at times complex exploration of rhythm, and that Dawn Chorus now sings with the aforementioned Creep, Wish You Were Here and a couple of other songs that can bring my eyes to quiet tears.
My first highlight is the album’s opener: Traffic. It’s probably the most musically traditional verse-bridge-refrain song on the record, and just like Planet Telex did for The Bends a quarter century ago, it sets the tone for ANIMA. There’s also a busy beat that sends me right back to In Rainbows’ Weird Fishes.
Some songs hit you at times of your life, and they register significantly. In the end, Dawn Chorus seeped into my cracks at the nadir of a dull depressive funk. My initial thought was that it was too ponderous, not musical and a bit of a space filler. But as weeks have dripped past it’s become the most compelling of songs. Struggling at the time with life and young children, it allowed me to dare to consider, ‘ if you could do it all again…’. My reaction as the rawness recedes is different but the echo of honest reflection lingers, a voice that pondered what I didn’t dare think, and another soul who could articulate the quietly bleak difficulty of everyday life sometimes for some of us.
I also love how the instrumental melody and harmony sit on opposite sides of your head, and for some reason particularly that the melody is on the left is intriguing and feels fresh, although I’m unsure why.
A low point is in the dysrhythmia of The Axe. Almost like it’s trying a kooky reggae jam slinging the chorus vocal onto the offbeat. But to my ear it doesn’t cling to anything. It makes the song a difficult listen, and at the end two distinct beats that don’t quite marry in a way I can comprehend. Also, and there’s no way of mentioning this without looking like I’m holding up my victorian ear trumpet and shouting ‘Eh?’ but some of the vocals throughout are indistinct, either buried in the mix or in their own choral echoes as on the intro to Last I heard. So I wonder what the point is beyond implying a feeling.
ANIMA expresses the morose loneliness of a systemised existence; the sadness that we did this to ourselves, and still willingly do. But in saying that, there’s a kind of forward locomotion to it that moved me in dark days, and despite the dystopia, I found my head bobbing contently with each listen.
It doesn’t promise better days but it did accompany me through the gloaming as I found them.