In the age of hyper-connected immediate satisfaction, Thom Yorke’s solo album Anima takes a few seconds of silence before the music kicks in. When it does, purposeful white noise courses through the album. Combining distorted electronics blended in with his voice adrift in the clutter, Anima is an album needing purposeful listening. Thom Yorke, of the legendary Radiohead, is an artist who knows the techniques of his craft, and he masterfully bends each and every one of them with intent to propel his solo album.
Most music of today can be put on in the background to liven up a party or add color to a day at the office, but without your attention, Anima drifts by like a boat without a rudder. His music is not trying to distract his listener or allow them an escape from the moment. Instead, he is capturing the complicated now and relays that experience. Today when the news is immediate, albums that took years to create are lucky to grab a week’s worth of attention, and everyone lives inside a digital reality personalized specifically for them, showcasing the present has never been more elusive. Anima is hard to categorize with moments that are simultaneously haunting and lovely, hypnotizing and fitful, as well as elegant and dreadful. The album swirls together many emotions while the lyrics present more of a vibe than a coherent story. It is a challenge to grasp, but the album is not for casual listening by the masses. Similar to how the novel Infinite Jest sits on every writer’s shelf with only the committed taking the effort to follow its roundabout story and being rewarded with a portrait of humanity, Anima takes its listeners for a ride they have to hold onto in order to make sense of our disorienting present.
Thankfully the album was released in conjunction with a 15-minute visual album of the same name on Netflix that allows listeners to dive into the experience. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the visual album follows the mind of Thom Yorke as he struggles against a society in synch with constant electronic dread. Opening the video, passengers on a subway all dressed in dark uniforms remain in their seats as their heads dance in sleepwalking cadence. Every dancer has a unique choreography that blends cohesively with each other. Later on, the ensemble marches up an apparently level floor, only to slide down whenever they stop or express a moment of flair. Surrounded by a society with eyes closed or facing downward, Thom Yorke’s character distracts himself in search of a bright moment, finding it in search of co-star Dajana Roncione. Set in a dystopian setting, the human connection brings in the light that makes it worth waking up in the morning. It is commonplace to dread the pervasiveness of technology and even those who oppose each other recognize how our online lives are quick to send us down a dark rabbit hole. By using electronics to present a warning of an electronic world, Thom Yorke establishes a beauty that can be found if those listening choose to work for it.
Anima is an album for those who live and breathe music. It lacks an easy approachability, but makes up for it with a soul searching that stays with you long after taking the effort to hear it. Listen to the album, ponder its meaning, and walk away with its message still haunting you. What music has over the written word is its ability to showcase a feeling beyond description. Anima is a deep dive of both Thom Yorke’s soul and your own. When listening, turn off the countless distractions around you and know they will be waiting for you to ease whatever concerns arise.