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Thom Yorke's 'ANIMA' Is An Emotional Love Story For Dark Times

Thom Yorke and Dajana Roncione in a scene from the video for Yorke's <em>ANIMA</em>, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.
Thom Yorke and Dajana Roncione in a scene from the video for Yorke's ANIMA, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.

Radiohead's Thom Yorke released his third official solo album, ANIMA, early Thursday morning, along with a short companion film featuring three tracks from the album. Produced by Nigel Godrich, the songs build on the anxious, heavily electronic work Yorke has explored outside Radiohead (and within Atoms for Peace) in recent years, blending beat-driven, polyrhythmic fare with the moodier, dreamier likes of ANIMA's "Dawn Chorus." But if you really want to prepare yourself for the journey the album takes, head over to Netflix for the stunning video.

The short film opens with Yorke on a train. One of many drowsy interlocked travelers, he sees a woman (played by Yorke's real-life girlfriend, Italian actress Dajana Roncione), and as he searches for her in an attempt to return a lunchbox she's left behind, he's enmeshed with an inventively staged array of dancers on a floor that tilts under their feet. By the time "Dawn Chorus" rolls around, he and Roncione become locked in a dreamy embrace as the film winds to its artful conclusion, completing a compact work that feels not just artful, but also warm — and uncharacteristically revealing.

It's tempting to minimize the momentousness of ANIMA's roughly 15-minute filmed counterpart; to view it as a promotional piece, or simply a long-form music video that stitches together lengthy chunks of the songs "Not the News," "Traffic" and "Dawn Chorus." But the film is considerably more ambitious than that: It's directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, for one thing, with truly inventive choreography by Damien Jalet, and it conveys an emotional story about the pursuit of love in a world that can be overwhelming and unkind. (Anderson and Yorke have worked together before, collaborating on the videos for " Daydreaming" and " The Numbers" from Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool).

The ANIMA film is especially effective at fleshing out the tone and meaning behind the work of an artist whose intentions can feel obtuse or otherwise at arm's length. But what really jumps out here is Yorke's own gameness and sense of play: He doesn't just dance, opting instead to throw himself into intricate, elaborately choreographed, unquestionably emotional routines.

ANIMA is out now via XL.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)