Atoms For Peace – Amok (album) (XL Recordings)


Initially formed as the live band to accompany Thom Yorke while touring his 2006 solo album ‘The Eraser’, Atoms For Peace consists of longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, drummer Joey Waronker, percussionist Mauro Refosco, and of course Thom Yorke himself.

The band released their brilliant first single “Default” back in September (read our review) followed by a second single entitled “Judge Jury and Executioner” (read our review) during the first week of 2013.

Of course, we’ve all been acutely aware of Yorke’s electronic leanings from his frequent stints at DJ’ing to his collaborations with artists such Burial and Four Tet (even the more recent Radiohead material). Atoms For Peace goes that step further by successfully blurring the line between electronic and live instrumentation. In fact, in some cases it’s impossible to tell.

Comparison to Radiohead and ‘The Eraser‘ is of course inevitable and in terms of production, mood, tempo and energy levels ‘Amok’ does at times feel a lot like Radiohead’s ‘The King of Limbs‘.

An extremely rhythmic, drum and bass driven album, ‘Amok’ is choc-full of clever vocal and musical syncopation. In addition to the electronic drums, and pulsing basses, another key feature on the album is the Juno synths as evident (check out the chorus of “Default”). Then there’s the smorgasbord of sonic delights such as, ahem, a dripping tap in “Ingenue”, blips, spurts, clicks and buzzes that characterise the songs.

Throughout the record, Yorke’s falsetto vocals are ghostly and ethereal (check out the album closing title track), dipping in and out while still providing the song’s with their melodic central hook.

Although one could talk all day about the ways in which ‘Amok’ is and isn’t similar to Radiohead and/or ‘The Eraser‘, one major influence that really deserves credit is the playing of bass maestro Flea. His presence cannot be overstated. In most cases, it’s his complex and funky bass lines that drive the song and provide the tunes with their backbone. Check out “Stuck Together Pieces” and “Unless” ; the latter building slowly to the 2:30 mark where the bass comes in and completely takes control.

Highlight tracks include “Dropped”, an up-tempo number driven by an 8-bit meets juno synth riff and funky as all hell bass line, the album’s first two singles (“Default” and ‘The King of Limbs‘ sounding “Judge Jury and Executioner“), and the dark and moody title track.

While it’s true that ”Amok’ is a slow burner and one that deserves multiple spins to fully appreciate, there are few moments of  pure exhilaration. Instead, ‘Amok’, like ‘The King of Limbs,tends to operate on one wavelength, at times running the risk of leaving the listener underwhelmed or feeling nonchalant. That said, you can’t deny the creative force and inspiration behind ‘Amok’. Few massively successful artists challenge their listeners, create a desire in listeners to want to immerse themselves in the artist’s works and dissect the work so closely but Thom Yorke does this each and every time.

‘Amok’ will be released on 26 February, 2013. At the time of publishing, the entire album is available streaming via the NPR website.

Update 1 March, 2013: Watch the video for “Ingenue” below.