Atoms for Peace, ‘Amok’ – Album Review
It’s become increasingly difficult to pinpoint when exactly Thom Yorke let the machines take over. Maybe around the time of ‘Kid A’? Ever since Radiohead’s 2000 opus, he’s fused his veins, tendons and nerves with the coils, wires and cables that drive the laptops and computers used so expressively in his music over the past dozen years. Radiohead’s last couple of albums are unquestionably more machine than man, but it’s on Yorke’s 2006 solo record ‘The Eraser’ where they completely consume his soul.
Yorke’s latest project, Atoms for Peace, stems from that 2006 album. In 2009, he put together a band for a solo tour that included Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, R.E.M. drummer Joey Waronker and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich. Atoms for Peace (named after an ‘Eraser’ track) make electronic music for people already familiar with their backstory. Their debut album ‘Amok’ is basically ‘The Eraser Part 2,’ or Radiohead without Jonny Greenwood.
You can also think of Atoms for Peace as a jam-band version of Radiohead. Between Waronker and percussionist Mauro Refosco, there’s enough polyrhythmic flip-flopping on ‘Amok’ to fuel one of those post-hippie fests that popped up every summer in the ‘90s. But the music here is way more disciplined. Even approaching six minutes, the opening ‘Before Your Very Eyes’ is structured, building layer upon layer the keyboards, percussion and rumbling bass that drive it.
And even with all of the wires and chips and processors serving it, ‘Amok’ isn’t without its human elements. Yorke has balanced this mix superbly in Radiohead, and he’s no less adept here at injecting these digital files with some natural warmth. ‘Default’ skitters along a distorted line of jumbled electronics and a rhythmic heart that suggests ‘Kid A’ played by Afropop giant Fela Kuti. Same goes for the groove-oriented ‘Stuck Together Pieces.’ And the haunted gospel hymn ‘Judge, Jury and Executioner’ is all handclaps and acoustic guitar plucking underneath the digital dusting.
Like ‘The Eraser,’ ‘Amok’ could use a few more actual songs. Even at their most obtuse, Radiohead albums like ‘In Rainbows’ and ‘The King of Limbs’ rarely stray far from traditional songwriting standbys. Atoms for Peace, for all their attention to aural detail, lose sight occasionally. But like recent Radiohead albums, ‘Amok’ offers plenty of sonic depth that mines deeper and deeper with each listen.