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What we're listening to: Broken Record and Thom Yorke's 'Anima'

A perfectly strange album and a music history lesson.
Engadget, @engadget
07.08.19 in AV
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In this month's installment of our audio IRL, we're back to podcasts. Deputy Managing Editor Nathan Ingraham embraces the weirdness of Thom Yorke's new album and Senior News Editor Billy Steele can't get enough of Malcolm Gladwell's music history show.

Thom Yorke - Anima

Nathan Ingraham

Nathan Ingraham
Deputy Managing Editor

If you're looking for an easy-breezy summer listen, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke's latest solo album, Anima, is most certainly a bad pick. But it's a positively engrossing listen, a claustrophobic set that nonetheless invites the listener in rather than pushes them away. While I love basically all of Radiohead's discography, Yorke's solo work is a bit hit or miss. His last proper solo record, 2014's Tomorrow's Modern Boxes, was perhaps the most alienating album he's ever recorded. It's not that I'm looking for radio-friendly hits, but the songs on that album just didn't draw me in -- it was perhaps the least memorable album I'd ever heard from Yorke.

Fortunately, the same isn't the case with Anima. As with most of Yorke's solo work, it's an album filled with electronic soundscapes, glitchy beats, mysterious lyrics and vocal performances that are generally without a strong hook. The songs aren't immediately catchy or super memorable, but they're intriguing enough to make me want to listen over and over again. That didn't happen with Tomorrow's Modern Boxes -- I was on the outside of that record and never really felt the need to venture back in.

Repeated listens to Anima have been quite rewarding so far, though. Opener "Traffic" mixes in a pretty memorable chorus hook while "Twist" finds York singing the verse in falsetto while sampled, cut-up beats of his vocals a few octaves lower are interspersed in an intriguing back-and-forth. "I Am a Very Rude Person," meanwhile, shows off Yorke's humorous side. "I'm breaking up your turntables / Now I'm going to watch your party die," he sings at the song's conclusion -- the height of rudeness, indeed.

"Dawn Chorus," though, is the album's minimalistic centerpiece. Yorke's lyrics remain as mysterious as ever, but the repeated "if you could do it all again" motif adds just enough longing to the procession to let the listener project whatever regret they want into the music. Summer party music, this is not. But Anima is a classic Thom Yorke production that isn't immediately gripping but worms its way into your brain in a big way after three or four listens.

Broken Record

Billy Steele

Billy Steele
Senior News Editor

I thought I was a music nerd. I was so wrong.

My reality check was a Questlove podcast interview. I don't remember the exact show, but I've heard him tell stories about his childhood a few times. Like the fact that by age 10, he had the same amount of music knowledge as most adults -- thanks in part to his father's record collection. That shouldn't be surprising. If you've ever heard him talk about music, you know he's an expert on the subject. His DJ sets are a performance art exhibition of his insane knowledge. And I now realize I'm barely a novice in comparison.

My latest run-in with the music guru and The Roots drummer was via Malcolm Gladwell's podcast Broken Record. The show was co-created with legendary music producer Rick Rubin -- who often serves as co-host -- and former New York Times editor Bruce Headlam. Now in its second season, the podcast is a captivating look at music history and styles, mostly through the lens of people who've lived it. I'm not a fan of Gladwell's books, but as a host, he's excellent. And he's a fantastic storyteller.

The first episode of season one is basically a greatest hits list of Rick Rubin's work. He was there at the beginning of hip-hop. He helped introduce Johnny Cash to an entirely new audience. An examination of Rubin's catalog is a survey of modern music history. And with Gladwell leading the way, it's a must-hear story.

My sentimental favorite episode is one about black metal. It's equal parts educational and hilarious. But the two-part interview with Questlove is the best example of why Broken Record is so good. There's a detailed discussion of D'Angelo's Voodoo, an album that's widely regarded as one of the best R&B records of all time. And it includes a story about how Questlove nearly sabotaged a performance with The Roots just to impress the singer. The drummer's deep music knowledge on display throughout, and listening to him and Rick Rubin go back-and-forth makes me want a podcast of just those two talking about... well, literally anything would be fine.

I'm not someone who typically recommends starting anything in the middle, but seriously, start Broken Record with the two Questlove episodes that begin season two of the show. From there, bounce back to the beginning of season one for the Rick Rubin interview. And even the episodes that sound like they might not be for you, give them a shot. I've found them all to be interesting, even if I'm not familiar with the subject at first. Plus, Gladwell's skill as an orator will hook you in the first few minutes.


"IRL" is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they're buying, using, playing and streaming.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
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