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Thom Yorke’s Non-Radiohead Albums, Ranked

The sonic innovator is releasing his eighth record away from the day job
Thom Yorke of The Smile performs at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on December 18, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images)

From Ed O’Brien and Philip Selway’s solo records to Jonny Greenwood’s long-running partnership with filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, Radiohead’s members have recorded lots of music outside their revolutionary band. But inevitably, their frontman’s efforts have attracted the most attention. 

In the wake of game-changer OK Computer, Thom Yorke reached the U.K. Top 20 with Drugstore collaboration “El Presidente,” guested on Unkle’s “Rabbit in Your Headlights,” and formed Roxy Music covers band Venus in Furs for Todd Haynes’ cult favorite Velvet Goldmine. And as we entered the millennium he so often warned us about, the proud misanthrope duetted with Björk on the Oscar-nominated “I’ve Seen It All” and contributed to PJ Harvey’s Mercury Prize-winning Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.  

Yorke took his time, though, putting his name to a full-length LP. It wasn’t until 2006, by which point Radiohead had recorded six albums, that he released his debut proper. (“I want no crap about me being a traitor or whatever splitting up blah blah this was all done with their blessing,” he remarked, irascibly. “And I don’t wanna hear that word solo.”) However, he’s since made up for lost time with a prolific body of work spanning soundtracks, solitary affairs, and supergroups. On the eve of his latest release, here’s how they all rank. 

8. Thom Yorke and Robert Del Naja, The UK Gold (2013) 

Having called out various powers that be throughout his career, Yorke seemed a no-brainer to co-soundtrack Mark Donne’s tax evasion documentary, The UK Gold. But he stayed uncharacteristically quiet on his six contributions—his distinctive voice is only heard once, during the wordless vocal loop of “Pin Loon Break Up.” Instead, Yorke relies on a percussive mix of industrial, IDM, and ambient. The other half of the record, composed by Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja, may be more listenable outside the context of the film. However, Yorke’s abrasive and atonal soundscapes best channel Donne’s rage against the machine.  

7. Thom Yorke, Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes (2014) 

Self-released (reissued through XL Recordings)

Following Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want strategy for In Rainbows, Yorke again turned record industry disruptor for his second solo LP. Designed to give “control of internet commerce back to people who are creating the work,” Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes snubbed Spotify entirely (well, until 2017) in favor of the tech-novice’s worst nightmare: the legal BitTorrent. Inevitably overshadowed by its unorthodox distribution method, the melody-averse record itself was similarly demanding of its listener. Over time, though, its paranoid charms started to unfold, with the Burial-like “The Mother Lode,” muffled techno of “There Is No Ice (For My Drink)” and closing synth-led hymn “Nose Grows Some” all worthy of gracing a Yorke best-of.   

6. The Smile, Wall of Eyes (2024) 

XL Recordings

Time may be even kinder to Wall of Eyes, the second album from Yorke’s second so-called supergroup. For now, it’s another sign that fellow Radioheader Jonny Greenwood and Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner best ring out the singer’s free spirit. There’s still plenty of despair, distress, and post-millennial anxiety on display, from the ominous countdown of the title track’s deliciously eerie samba to “Bending Hectic,” a slow-building eight-minute post-rock tale about a plunge down an Italian mountainside. Yet there’s also a sense of the trio, unrestricted by any weight of expectation, having fun: see “Friend of a Friend,” an atmospheric piano-pop number which borrows from both the Beatles and latter-day Bowie.  

5. Thom Yorke, Suspiria (2018) 

XL Recordings

Having previously rejected Fight Club, Yorke finally added film composer to his résumé for Suspiria, Luca Guadagnino’s equally nihilistic remake of the Argento horror classic. Side-stepping Goblin’s bombastic goth-prog from the 1977 original, Yorke instead opted for an unsettling mix of musique concrete, krautrock, and electronic sci-fi. The effect may have been quieter, but on the 14-minute drone “A Choir of One” and Aphex Twin-like “Volk” (the latter featuring Yorke’s drummer son Noah), it instilled just as much dread. Co-produced by Sam Petts-Davies, these self-described “spells” inevitably work better accompanied by Guadagnino’s striking imagery. Nevertheless, the more conventional songs, particularly ghostly piano ballad “Unmade,” rival Yorke’s greatest solo efforts.   

4. Thom Yorke, Anima (2019) 

XL Recordings

In contrast to its predecessor, Yorke launched the dream-obsessed Anima in a blaze of publicity: see the giant billboard campaign advertising a company (fake, obviously) specializing in recovering dreams and a short film helmed by Paul Thomas Anderson. The two Grammy nominations and Billboard Dance Chart No. 1 showed this unexpected media blitz paid off. Still, these layered forays into post-dubstep, drum’n’bass, and breakbeat— inspired by Flying Lotus’ improvised loops—probably didn’t give David Guetta any sleepless nights. “I’m breaking up the turntables / Now I’m gonna watch your party die,” Yorke croons on “I Am a Very Rude Person,” proving that, alongside all the existential woes, he also possessed an amusing streak of self-deprecation.  

3. The Smile, A Light for Attracting Attention (2022) 

XL Recordings

Undoubtedly the most familiar-sounding of Yorke’s extracurricular projects, and not just for the presence of Greenwood and producer Nigel Godrich. Closer “Skrting on the Surface” was performed by Radiohead in 2009, while “Free in the Knowledge” is the type of straightforward acoustic ballad certain fans have been clamoring for since The Bends. The Smile’s debut, a lockdown project first teased during the socially-distanced Glastonbury, isn’t Yorke’s most forward-thinking. But its exquisite melting pot of prog, post-punk, and jazz rock still throws up several curveballs—the rage-fueled “You Will Never Work in Television Again,” for example, and on “Open the Floodgates,” a direct quotation from Roxette. 

2. Atoms for Peace, Amok (2013) 

XL Recordings

“We got wasted, played pool, and listened to Fela Kuti all night.” Atoms for Peace’s unpromising origin story suggested 2013’s most unlikely supergroup (eternal miserabilist Yorke joining forces with cock-sock-wearing bassist Flea?) would succumb to the usual self-indulgent pitfalls. But the motley crew—also boasting Godrich, percussionist Mauro Refosco, and well-travelled drummer Joey Waronker—instead delivered one of the year’s most intriguing debuts. Refreshingly free of ego, each member gets opportunities to shine on a freewheeling blend of IDM, experimental rock, and, of course, Afrobeats, skillfully blurring the boundaries between human and machine. Sadly, despite Yorke hinting “this is the beginning of something,” Amok remains a one-off.  

1. Thom Yorke, The Eraser (2006) 

XL Recordings

Drawing upon Jonny Greenwood, Godrich, and musical fragments previously recorded with Radiohead, Yorke’s 2006 debut perfectly bridged the gap between his day job and side hustles. It also set the template for all future endeavors in how artist and producer constantly exchanged and edited various sound collages until striking glitch-tronica gold. Although The Eraser’s lyrical themes are steeped in doom—”And It Rained All Night,” for one, explores the devastating effects of climate change—its music, specifically tailored to savor in isolation, is often strangely beautiful.