Thom Yorke’s “Impossible Knots” is the Soundtrack to your Summer Anxiety
One cannot help but feel multiple conflicting emotions when immersed in Radiohead. The enigmatic band, and more importantly frontman, Thom Yorke, has always presented a daunting ambivalence regarding progress, technology, and life itself. This artistic approach has unfailingly made the sonic world of Radiohead an undeniably intriguing and unique listening experience. Yorke’s third solo album, Anima (accompanied by a Paul Thomas Anderson short film), fails to stray from this trend, presenting conflicting aesthetic of the humane and mechanic, the ambitious and afraid, the simplified and whole. The album’s penultimate track “Impossible Knots” is perhaps the most exemplary of this concept as the lyrics and instrumental constantly grapple with agency and power. The incredibly rich and layered backing track paired with Yorke’s trademark vocal cries make this performance the most striking on the album, as well as one of the strongest of Yorke’s career.
— Thom Yorke (@thomyorke) June 27, 2019
“Impossible Knots” opens rather minimally with a pressing electronic drum beat, but the track quickly unfolds into something incredibly layered and dynamic. An infectious bassline quickly jumps in, only to be followed by a mysterious synth progression and the high pitched yearning of Thom Yorke himself. His words “All tied up in impossible knots, I’ll take anything you got,” crescendo with gorgeous anxiety along with the increasingly complex instrumental. This lack of agency soon turns into a wide open opus of creative freedom as the track transitions beautifully.
The track’s atmospheric tones perfectly encapsulate the thematic ambivalence of Radiohead especially when Yorke begins to intricately layer his own vocals over one another. In the outro of “Impossible Knots,” we hear the phrase “I’ll be ready” repeated and layered over and over in a pristine moment in which Yorke turns his voice into another instrument in the landscape. The countless sonic harmonies come together, seamlessly creating a dreamy conclusion that brings the track full circle. With this outro we see some of the thematic juxtaposition that Thom Yorke is known for: The human voice presented as an instrument alongside electronic composition, artistic ambition as a response to creative entrapment, and the interdependence of rebellious spirit and mechanical order.
“Impossible Knots” serves as a highlight track in an album that solidifies the artistic fearlessness of an industry legend. In a poetic sense of imagery, the track presents listeners with the musical display of a knot tightening and unwinding in real time. While reaching new creative heights for Thom Yorke, it is still at its core dripping with what has made Radiohead stand the test of time: the existential expression of beauty, fear, and the ambivalent self.