BY: Sarah Nichols
Before I listened to Thom Yorke’s latest solo album, I wondered if my expectations were too high; his soundtrack for the Susperia remake was perfect: sinister, mournful; a reach into the numinous that marks the best of what Yorke, and the rest of Radiohead as a unit, give to the listener. I had been unhappy with The Eraser (I kept wanting the rest of the band to show up, and dial back the disconnected electronic noodlings), and I have never heard Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, a decision based on bad reviews by people who are as intense about their Yorke/Radiohead fandom as I am.
Which brings me back to Anima, and the fifteen-minute film that accompanies it, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. As a listening experience, I looked back at my initial thoughts on hearing Kid A: whatever future was waiting at the beginning of the twenty-first century, then Kid A was clearly its soundtrack; by turns frightening, loud, sometimes sublime, and always intensely beautiful. Anima arouses similar feelings. The future that I heard nineteen years ago has swallowed us, and this is the next phase: a longing for connection in fragmented utterances, flashes of humor; sounds that demand our attention.
And this is what informs the film, a dream sequence ballet that unexpectedly (for me) turns into a love story between Yorke and his real-life partner, Dajana Roncione. He follows her through a group of similarly dressed people (with everyone, save for Roncione, looking worn down by the numb routines of daily life) to the strains of “Not the News,” one of the strongest songs on the album, with Yorke asking, “who are these people ?” The action moves to a more abstract space, one that sees the dancers struggling to hold on, and Yorke keeping a tenuous hold, all of them working with tight, but unforced moves, as the first track of the album, “Traffic,” plays, its lyrics bringing us to a familiar place in Yorke’s psyche: “submit/submerged/no body/no body/it’s no good.” If the film had stopped here, or continued with this theme, it would look and sound like a well-crafted missed opportunity: of interest but not providing anything new. Fortunately, Yorke and Anderson go farther: as “Dawn Chorus” plays, Yorke and Roncione are united at last, performing a kind of pas-de-deux against a wall, side by side, moving in tandem, exchanging amused, happy looks, their movements gaining speed as they progress. This is so unexpected, and so real, and it comes back to what I see so much of in Radiohead’s work: despite the fragmentation and dislocation of the world, spiritual experiences are still happening; fear, longing, love.
The dance/dream is almost over for the couple, as they move through a park to a waiting tram, the rest of the troupe taking their places. Yorke wakes up alone, though, with sunlight and bird song; a movement from the endless subway tunnel that opened the film to a more serene space. I love how light this piece feels; it floats even in moments where it could become dour. The sharp moments in Yorke’s work haven’t been buffed away, either, and the choice to use dance to tell a “story” gleaned from the album is an excellent one.
Something more linear and lip synched would never have worked; it wouldn’t have captured the intimacy that comes through in the form of a collective dream, or a lover’s smile, a dance to your most secret thoughts, disguised as music, disguised as poetry
Sarah Nichols lives and writes in Connecticut. She is the author of eight chapbooks, including She May Be a Saint (Porkbelly Press, 2019) and Dreamland for Keeps (Porkbelly Press, 2018). Her poems have also appeared in Otis Nebula, FreezeRay Poetry, and Glass Poetry’s Poets Resist series.
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