Albums of the week: Thom Yorke, Foy Vance and The Black Keys

Thom Yorke​ - ANIMA

(XL Recordings)



Thom Yorke’s third solo album feels like it begins where Radiohead’s OK Computer left off: “Goddamned machinery, why don’t you speak to me? / One day I am gonna take an axe to you,” he torments on new offering The Axe. Where OK Computer was the warning, Anima is the reality: technology has taken over and our true inner selves, our “animas”, are lost.

In Yorke’s new world, humans are devoid of self, walking around in a limbo state somewhere between dreams and foggy realities. His falsetto haunts sparse songs built from twitchy electronica and fragmented sound collages (amassed by long-term collaborator Nigel Godrich) to give this the thematic nervousness of Kid A — as well as its jazz innovations, as on Impossible Knots.

There are lingering, introverted monologues on here too, where grief is represented with all the beauty of something from In Rainbows or A Moon Shaped Pool. “The wind picked up/ Shook up the soot/ From the chimney pot/ Into spiral patterns/ Of you, my love”, Yorke sings on the beautiful Dawn Chorus.

Selves are often grieved for on Anima but so too are moments passed as humanity languors in tech-created unreal realities.

Yorke’s melancholy has more menace here than in much of his other solo repertoire, as on The Axe and Runwayaway. Yet there is also hope, on tender, relatable and even danceable songs, thanks to a combination of Brian Eno-like ambiances with urgent Fela Kuti-inspired basslines. Vast and bold in scope, Anima finds clarity amid confusion: it’s Thom Yorke’s best solo offering.

by Elizabeth Aubrey

Abdullah Ibrahim - The Balance

(Gearbox Records)



Much rejoicing meets this record, the first release in five years from the great South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim, known once upon a time as Dollar Brand and declared “our Mozart” by Nelson Mandela.

Now aged 84, and a living legend whose lifelong practice of Zen Buddhism informs compositions as graceful and life-affirming as they are inventive and technically skilled, Ibrahim continues to push boundaries while keeping hold of his township roots.

Here, buoyed by his long-time band Ekaya, whose broad instrumentation includes horns, harmonica, cello and just-so piccolo, Ibrahim achieves what the album’s title asserts, performing old songs such as Jubaya and Tuang Guru as if they were new, and new songs that sound like classics.

He plays Cadogan Hall on September 10.

by Jane Cornwell

Foy Vance - From Muscle Shoals

(Gingerbread Man/Atlantic)



Foy Vance has toured and written songs with Ed Sheeran as well as being signed to his label but the Northern Irishman’s sound has always come from an older place. On his fourth album he’s looking fully backwards, writing retro soul songs and travelling to FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to record them,

The effort Vance has expended towards ensuring authenticity, from fiery horns on the stomping Be With Me to the organ touches on the smouldering Make It Rain, make this sound less like pastiche than many who have revisited this music.

He’ll do it again later this year, with a companion album of Americana made in Memphis.

by Andre Paine

The Black Keys - “Let’s Rock”




More albums should be called “Let’s Rock”. Other good titles might be Funky Time, Let’s All Have a Party! and Siri, Play Me Some Rock ’n’ Roll. When times are complicated, sometimes it pays to keep things simple.

For their ninth album, Ohio blues survivalists Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have found a way out of the darker woods they had been exploring on Turn Blue (2014). Here are 12 denim-clad, bourbon-swilling, cruise-control stomps. Lo/Hi, Tell Me Lies and Under the Gun are the sort of throwaway genre pieces that only really accomplished musicians can pull off.

But if anything “Let’s Rock” is all a little too well-honed and museum-ready, lacking the abrasive edges and emotional rawness that might have made it jump out of the stereo. There’s nothing quite so memorable as Carney’s theme for the Netflix animated comedy BoJack Horseman.

by Richard Godwin

Various artists - The Lost Words:Spell Songs

(Quercus Records)



There's a wellspring of feeling behind Robert Macfarlane’s book The Lost Words, a bestseller which highlights words, many of which describe nature, which are disappearing from the dictionary and common usage. Several of Macfarlane’s “spells” about the natural world have now been set to music by a team of musicians from the UK including Julie Fowlis, Karine Polwart, Kris Drever, Seckou Keita and others.

Kingfishers, owls, goldfinches, acorns and conkers are all celebrated while the poetry is itself compelling. This is a collection of songs where the lyrics come to the fore and are clearly audible in this pristine recording. Senegalese kora player Keita is gorgeously highlighted in Papa Keiba. The music is beautiful and the message is strong.

by Simon Broughton