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Atoms For Peace – ‘Amok’ review

Atoms For Peace – Amok

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Buy: Amok

This may well have been packaged up and presented to us as a collective effort between musician friends but, whether he likes it or not, Amok is basically Thom Yorke’s follow-up to The Eraser. Atoms For Peace are named after a track on The Eraser and were formed during Yorke’s touring of his debut solo album, and though they name Flea as bassist and respected musicians Joey Waronker (REM, Beck) and Mauro Refosco on the album sleeve, it’s hard to see this as anything other than a Thom Yorke/Nigel Godrich production.

Quite why Thom has decided to hide behind (an admittedly very cool) band name is anyone’s guess. He has been quoted recently as saying he’s trying to have a bit more ‘fun’ with his career though, so perhaps this is all part of his ‘loosening up’ stage? The evidence certainly bears that out, as Amok is a much lighter and unburdened album than The Eraser and is more in line with the groovy electro-jazz excursion that was Radiohead’s latest album, The King Of Limbs.

Amok was also recorded quite quickly, with Yorke and Godrich manipulating the beats and various contributed tracks on Yorke’s laptop – so perhaps it makes sense that such a ‘sketchy’ and ad hoc album should have it’s own place in the Thom Yorke canon, filed under ‘Misc’ maybe?

With all that in mind it becomes hard to take Amok too seriously, which is a shame because it is inventive and interesting enough to be considered as more than just the result of a rock star killing time and playing on his computer.

Opening track ’Before Your Very Eyes’, for instance, is a constantly shifting and evolving beast that starts off running along a typically funky Flea bassline, before being delicately stretched out into an atmospheric and jittery electro number. You can almost hear Yorke and Godrich dissecting and organising the various elements as the song flows along just behind their busy fingers.

The masterful production continues with lead single ’Default’, which rises from skittery drum patterns and discordant vocals into something approaching epic. ’Ingenue’ builds a soft and restrained backdrop for Yorke’s vocals out of a descending synth riff, meandering bass and something sounding like a tap dripping while ’Reverse Running’ features an almost indecipherable amount of different elements all delicately entwined into a beautifully textured whole.

The more I listen to it, the more it feels that Amok was really developed as an excuse for Yorke and Godrich to experiment and try out some new production techniques. Kind of like master painters experimenting with colour and shade, they prod and poke around the album testing new ideas. As you can imagine, this doesn’t always quite come off. ’Stuck Together Pieces’ turns out to be an extremely apt song title and ’Unless’ never quite manages to rise above the weight of too many disparate elements being chucked onto it.

When Amok clicks though, as it does with the moody ’Judge, Jury And Executioner’ and transcendent closing title track, it sounds like something very special indeed. Which all bodes rather well for the next Radiohead album, I think!

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