Complete this sentence: Thom Yorke’s Anima is …
A | The third solo album from Radiohead’s prolific frontman, resident genius and chief visionary;
B | An electronica concept piece about dreams, love, anxiety, Jungian philosophy, technology and contemporary dystopia;
C | The soundtrack to a playfully acrobatic, avant-garde modern-dance film;
D | The score to a surreal, metaphorical fable about a sleepy dude with a man-bun who loses his lunch and finds love on the way to work;
E | The epic jingle to the artsiest mass-transit advert ever created.
The correct answer, of course, is yes. Anima, the 50-year-old singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and restlessly experimental eccentric’s latest extracurricular creation — which arrives accompanied by a Paul Thomas Anderson short film/long video of the same name currently airing on Netflix — is all of the above. And probably some more besides. Knowing Yorke’s penchant for inscrutable intellectualism, I’m sure I’ve probably missed a few other possibilities.
But here’s one I didn’t: The album is also the most enjoyable, satisfying and fully realized music he’s made without his revered bandmates. At first listen, it’s hard to grasp why. For the most part, the nine-song set — produced as always by longtime collaborator Nigel Godrich — is constructed from Yorke’s usual building blocks: Twitchy lurching beatboxes and glitchy textures. Synthesizers that pulse and bleep and howl like alien communications. Angst-riddled lyrics and idiosyncratic vocals that move from fragile falsetto crooning to detached muttering. So far, so familiar.
Probe a little deeper, however, and it’s clear something darker and more sinister is at work here. Compared to his previous solo releases — 2006’s The Eraser and 2014’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes — Anima comes on starker, tenser, more unified and pointed. Give some of the credit to Godrich, who reportedly edited these coherent and focused tracks out of sprawling unfinished instrumentals. But most of the props still belong to Yorke, who has said he created these songs following a period of anxiety. It shows in the grimly propulsive industrial grooves and ominous basslines. Not to mention the haunting less-is-more arrangements and instrumentation, along with the tightly wound lyrics and apprehensive vibe that governs the whole affair.
Why so tense, Thom? Well, maybe his spectral, spooky 2018 soundtrack for the Italian horror-film remake Suspiria coloured his outlook in a way that bled over into these tracks (or vice versa). Or maybe he’s just coping with our troubled and troubling times the best way he knows how. Ultimately, those are questions only he can answer. All I can tell you is this: If you’re wondering whether Anima is worth your time and money, the answer is a no-brainer. It’s yes, of course.