Review: Atoms For Peace’s album ‘AMOK’
Label: XL Recordings
Thom Yorke and his ‘supergroup’ run Amok in an electronically charged wasteland.
Atoms For Peace have delivered their debut offering, and what a kaleidoscope of sound we have been presented with. One can’t help but feel as if they are still floating through the soundscapes created within Radiohead’s last offering, ‘King Of Limbs’ and Thom Yorke’s first solo album, ‘The Eraser’.
Originally formed by Yorke to perform the tracks from his 2006 offering, ‘The Eraser, ‘Atoms For Peace’ consists of Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Radiohead’s longtime producer Nigel Godrich, renowned session drummer Joey Waronker (who has played with the likes of REM, Beck and Elliot Smith) and lastly ‘Forro In The Dark’ percussionist Mauro Refosco.
It’s no grand illusion, and quite frightening I might add that the Radiohead frontman has developed a ‘slight’ obsession with electronic music over recent years. He continues down this path on AMOK. However, unlike the soundscape of King Of Limbs and The Eraser, AMOK is filled with more distinctly tribal beats and rhythms. This might have something to do with the 3 days that the outfit spent together in Los Angeles when they were attempting to snapshot their kinetic live energy. According to Yorke it was a highly stimulating and enjoyable few days that was spent getting wasted, playing pool, staying up all night listening to the magnificent Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, Fela Kuti and playing with the idea of ‘Trance-ing out’.
Album opener ‘Before Your Very Eyes’ sets the mood for the next 8 tracks which remain stylistically similar throughout the record. A palette of digitally engineered sounds is accompanied by polyrhytmic drum beats and groovy, tribalistic percussion which can no doubt be attributed to Refosco’s South American heritage.
As with Yorke’s other recent work, guitars are almost non-existent on this record, except for a brief appearance on the album’s opener ‘Before Your Very Eyes’ and ‘Reverse Running’. It doesn’t take long for the beautiful guitar hook that starts ‘Before Your Very Eyes’ to be replaced by the electronic tones of a synthesizer, mirroring Yorke’s desire for this album to essentially blur the line between human and machine. Songs such as ‘Ingenue’ and ‘Unless’ are heavily synth driven. They conjure up images of the days of Gary Numan and his Tubeway Army. I can’t help but wonder what the result of a collaborative effort between this outfit and Gary Numan would result in.
‘Stuck Together Pieces’ and ‘Dropped’ are by far the strongest tracks on the album and fluidly combine the intricate tapestry of sounds and musical ideas that were explored on the record. Bursting into life on the track ‘Dropped’ and providing a strong and lively founding rhythm in ‘Stuck Together Pieces’, the bass lines on these two tracks are simply delicious and sit in stark contrast to the minimalistic offerings of the other tracks. Flea’s best moments are in ‘Dropped’ and ‘Stuck Together Pieces’, with tone and melody somewhat reminiscent of his dazzling work with iconic funk-rock maestros, The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Once again, Yorke’s vocal melodies are hauntingly beautiful. The only drawback around his vocal delivery is the somewhat distant yet repetitious manner in which he enunciates an almost unintelligible flow. Nonetheless in typical Yorke style, we find ourselves floating above a singularly glitchy and digitally powered landscape, as the voice of Radiohead resonates throughout the record and leaves the listener spellbound.
Fade out into the closing stages of the record and we find ourselves lost in a series of more frantic, erratic rhythms. By this point the music penetrates the mind and seems to subtly describe a shadow play of people losing their inhibitions and contorting their bodies into weird shapes and forms. The aural landscape calls up imagery almost like signals travelling through a computer system.
The final track, ‘Amok’ for which the album is named, seems to hold us hostage to a haunting and sad landscape left behind by the clicking action of a digital destroyer. Possibly the most apt term to describe the myriad of sounds as the track kicks in would be matriculated. A thudding, powerful and continuous bass line underplays one of the most melodically engaging tracks of the record. The use of piano to accentuate the mood is both deft and emotionally exhausting if you allow yourself to be drawn in. At last, and quite suddenly it all fades out and we’re left with the final fleeting notes of a piano chord, a telling contrast to the digital majority across the rest of the album.
Ultimately this is no ground-breaking work. However it does take the listener on a musical journey, and left me feeling a little like Alice in a digital wonderland.
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
Reviewed by: Ariana Pelser