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Thom Yorke's Anima is bleak, but beautiful

Thom Yorke and his partner, Italian actress Dajana Roncione. Photo/Netflix/Darius Khondji

Radiohead singer heads towards the dystopian in a new solo album.

Thom Yorke’s solo albums turn up more frequently than those of Radiohead, the Pink-Floyd-of-their-generation that he’s fronted since they formed in 1985. The doomy, dreamy and quietly gripping Anima is his third and it follows 2014’s abstract Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes and last year’s curious soundtrack for the Italian horror remake Suspiria.

There’s a movie with this one, too. Director Paul Thomas Anderson, who has frequently employed Yorke’s bandmate Jonny Greenwood for soundtracks to his features, has filmed a 15-minute continual music video of three Anima songs, which is now on Netflix. In it, man-bunned Yorke becomes part of a nervy but beautiful contemporary dance performance that starts on an underground train, eventually emerging on to the cobblestones of Prague where the singer twirls down an alley with his real-life partner, Italian actress Dajana Roncione. It’s quite the Yoko moment.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

Although it’s not exactly jubilant dancing in the streets, it’s a good advertisement for Anima’s propulsive, limb-shaking urges. The album spends a lot of time with Yorke fretting his way through fizzing electronic hazes, sparse drum-machines and off-kilter time signatures, but it often kicks out of this into something visceral.

That’s especially so on the likes of I Am a Very Rude Person with its sinuous groove, Not the News with its escalating layers of fractured beats, and Impossible Knots with its busy reggae bassline.

Yes, the mood is apprehensive and Yorke’s lyrics head towards the dystopian – funnily enough, in Anderson’s film he can remind of John Hurt, who was so well cast in Nineteen Eighty-Four – but Anima’s bleakness is more than matched by its strange beauty.

ANIMA, Thom Yorke (XL)

★★★★

This article was first published in the July 20, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.