Atoms For Peace – Amok (XL Recordings)
Atom For Peace, the new “superdupergroup” consisting of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Red Hot Chili Peppers Flea, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker of Beck & R.E.M. and Brazilian instrumentalist Mauro Refosco dropped their debut album last Monday. And pretty good it is too.
By now you will no doubt know the entire back story of this album. The whole process of how it was made, and how the personnel got together has been poured over by the press for what seems like forever. So, ignoring all that has gone before, let’s jump straight into the music and see exactly what we have.
Before Your Very Eyes starts us off with a Talking Heads style skittering guitar and the afro-beat stylings that Thom Yorke mentioned in many of his promotional activities. Yorke (whose voice has actually grown more beautiful over the years), favours the nearly indecipherable falsetto that he has been using more and more of as of late. As it weaves through the music created by who-knows-what, the listener will find it very difficult to work out who does what when it comes to the music. Humans and computers interweave into one glorious whole. Kraftwerk’s Man Machine writ large.
A promising, yet slightly understated, opener.
First single, Default, then follows this with its glorious stop / start rhythm and THAT chorus. Like a modern day take on Joy Division’s Heart and Soul, this is melancholy wrapped up in rhythm, warm/cold up/down. As close to The Eraser for feel and sound as this album gets. An early highlight and one which makes the next track even more of a disappointment.
Ingenue is the only tack on the album that really sounds like it could have been worked on more or released as a b-side. On Ingenue, even Yorke’s voice sounds like it’s struggling to reach the right emotions required, something this writer has not heard before. But, as with a lot of albums, what goes down must go up, and what follows is a piece of pure magic and the highlight of Amok.
Dropped starts with the two-step strut of a drum and bass track and the fullest sounding beat on the album. When we hear the bass guitar kick in just after a minute, the song springs to life in glorious fashion.
Dropped is the sound of a band who are loving playing together. It is more obvious than on any other track on the album who is exactly doing what. Funnily enough, it is very reminiscent of Hail To The Thief-era Radiohead and would have actually sounded great on TKOL.
Unless follows with Yorke repeating “care less, I couldn’t care less” over and over as the music slowly builds into near unbearable levels. When the pay-off happens at nearly two and a half minutes in, the tune descends into afro-beat electronica, with multiple samples of Yorke’s voice filtering in and out. This is where the full influence of artists such as Fela Kuti, Gaslamp Killer, and Flying Lotus are fully felt. Impossible not to want to move around to, this is a dance floor killer (if that dancefloor is at a Brainfeeder party of course).
Stuck Together Pieces returns us to the loose jam feel of opener Before Your Very Eyes and it’s impossible not to get the image of a bare-chested Flea shaking his head as he repeats over and over one of the funkiest riffs he’s played as the rest of the band improvise around him in a haze of smoke.
In recent interviews, Yorke has talked about how much happier he is now, and how much fun he had making this album. Stuck Together Pieces is evidence of this fun. Along with Dropped, this has a great Atoms-For-Peace-as-band feel to it.
Second single, Judge Jury Executioner (a title previously used on Hail To The Thief) follows with its handclap off-beat rhythm and deep bass (made by human voice and not guitar… well maybe anyway) bounce that again shows the influence of Yorke’s passion for future bass producers.
Reverse Running is quite an apt title for the next track as it’s very reminiscent of The Eraser. Quite stripped in its music, it’s only halfway through that a sudden denseness is added (if briefly). A nice track, which has a really great last minute, but unfortunately it feels like a step backwards after what has gone before.
Closer, Amok, is one of the most disorienting tracks on the album and an absolute belter to finish on. Mostly reminiscent of Yorke’s work with Modeselektor, this is the one track on the album that actually feels created by others with Yorke as a guest vocalist. Sounds build and
fall, and spin the listener around and around before planting you gently back down to land.
So, with all the baggage that this album carries, how does it hold up? Even though there are quite a few traces of Yorke’s previous work (HTTT especially), this has to be approached as something completely different.
There are some misfires on Amok, and it is not a perfect album, however, as the debut album by a new band, it is pretty impressive. Like the (unfairly, in my opinion) slightly maligned album TKOL, Amok rewards repeated listens. Headphones are essential on your first couple of listens and I guarantee you that when this album is aired properly live, it will be an absolute beast.
Most new bands would dream of having a debut album as good as this.
All words by Simon Tucker. More of Simon’s writing on Louder Than War can be found in his author’s archive.