It sounds counterintuitive to say Thom Yorke delivers uneasy music with a sense of ease, yet ANIMA unfurls with a slow, steady confidence that can be called comfortable. Perhaps this relaxed gait is due to how ANIMA finds Yorke treading familiar territory, revisiting the kind of jittery, chilly electronica that has been his solo specialty ever since he snuck out The Eraser in 2006. During the 13 years that separate The Eraser and ANIMA, indie and electronic music underwent several changes, but Yorke and his longtime producer Nigel Godrich aren't especially interested in chasing trends. They're working with a similar tool box that they did in a previous decade, running loops, distorting acoustic instruments, operating faders, and leaning into glitches and skittish rhythms. All these sounds mean ANIMA sounds superficially similar to its predecessors (The Eraser, plus 2014's Tomorrow's Modern Boxes), but Yorke and Godrich are craftsman, offering a different perspective on a familiar subject. That subject is, naturally, a distrust of the modern world and a fear of a creeping dystopia, a paranoia that suits the troubled times of 2019. Perhaps the world has turned to meet Yorke on his old stomping ground, but that's where his light touch comes into play. Where he once seemed consumed with dread, Yorke gently argues for the importance of humanity within a cold, alienated world. When he attempts to articulate this stance in his lyrics, he can be a shade direct -- witness how he rails against "goddamned machinery" on "The Axe" -- but his bluntness is softened by the slow, shifting soundscapes that populate ANIMA. Against all odds, Yorke's eerie electronic shimmer doesn't inspire fear so much as console; in this dark time, it's reassuring to hear a human heart beating the digital clutter.
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine