Engulf yourself in full-on homo-erotic surrender in the scope of millions a la The Bends’ “High and Dry”? This is old hat for Thom Yorke. Be in a car or observe “traffic”? This seems to be something he’s still grappling and struggling with.
Like the opener “Airbag” on OK Computer, the leadoff on Yorke’s new solo album ANIMA, “Traffic,” seems to tackle the theme of modern human congestion. A bit like Bowie’s “Five Years,” which is also an album opener, the primary malady seems to be just a sort of sensory overload, and not even an erotic one but more of just an emotional one, one that attacks the gut of a human who knows he’s needed and knows that one day he’ll no longer be able to give what’s needed of him.
ANIMA carries the dark tension typically indicative of Yorke’s band Radiohead, constructing a roughly “dubstep” (sorry if this is a clumsy term to use) musical interface reminiscent roughly of the band’s spooky and underrated 2011 effort The King of Limbs and utilitarian of the strange sounds like you heard on “Kid A,” though in this case it’s likely to be a treated tuba, rather than a person’s voice that’s treated into, um, sounding like a tuba.
But Yorke seems to have crafted a masterpiece here that’s clear, listenable, and perhaps most importantly and hauntingly, terse and direct enough as to illustrate a sense of urgency before an impending mortality, the type of thing made undeniably thematic by track two’s title “Last I Heard (…He Was Circling the Drain).” This track again wields a potent proclivity toward programmed drums, the type of functionality here which actually marks an improvement over Amnesiac in both sound and rhythmic complexity (though I’ll always have a soft spot for that album as well), keeping things fresh with ingenious little temporal wrinkles that land him somewhere between his former work and Flying Lotus. Elsewhere, “Last I Heard…” is organ-heavy, with keys pouring in for some tense, Miles Davis-induced harmonies, pillaring Yorke’s grating but obtusely melodic vocals. Most authoritative on “Last I Heard…,” though, on a technical level, is the spliced snare we got on the Amnesiac version of “Like Spinning Plates,” plotted here as a mainstay of the song’s rhythmic vehicle and not just a sonic novelty. It’s a production technique once embryonic come now to full, active fruition, which Thom Yorke fans will find nice to hear.
“Twist” is weird and awesome, an ambient electro dirge where an endless, skittish drum line lingers like an unwanted guest liable to collapse at any time, taking on then an In Rainbows-harkening harmonic brightness. Anybody who says in light of this album that Yorke’s not the musical mind behind Radiohead is definitely a fool. “Dawn Chorus” finds a vacant, almost catatonic vocal cloaking more endless chordal madness and the beautiful sort of rhythmic restraint we beheld Amnesiac’s stunning “Dollars and Cents.”
There was a great quote from Travis Scott in his Rolling Stone feature a couple years ago that was something like, “I don’t do drugs, because there’s already MDMA coursing through my veins… If you lick my blood, you’ll get high.” Really, this is what I couldn’t help mentally mulling on over and over, absorbing the creation of this alt-prog firebrand who apparently finds it congenitally impossible to ever be even remotely boring in any way. Again on “I Am a Very Rude Person,” the strategy seems satiric but dangerous themes of mortality take the helm in a compelling way once again: I think he said “I’m taking up the turntable… I’m gonna watch your body die”. Hopefully we’ll all now get the sense that this guy has an overwhelming penchant for the ironic and the parodic and that when he says “I’m happy just to serve you” on “Daydreaming” he is in fact being sarcastic, not verbatim reciting a line from a Walgreens customer training video. I said hopefully.