I’m a big Radiohead fan, but I won’t lie: I was pretty disappointed with their most recent effort, The King of Limbs. Still, I never give up on a band I love, particularly not one of my favorites, like Radiohead. So when lead singer, Thom Yorke, announced that he’d be releasing a new album with his side-project band, Atoms For Peace, I got pretty excited. Sure, it wasn’t something from Radiohead, exactly… but it was still something. And I quite liked Yorke’s solo album (The Eraser, 2006), so I was excited.
Basically, Amok is the Radiohead album that The King of Limbs should have been.
Atoms For Peace became an official group back in 2009, when Yorke was touring to perform songs from his aforementioned solo album. The group consists of Flea, the bassist from The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Joey Waronker from R.E.M (and Beck) as the drummer, and of course, Yorke as the lead vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist/musical genius. Mauro Refosco lends a hand as the percussionist (he’s also played with RHCP and David Byrne), while Radiohead’s longtime producer, Nigel Godrich makes up the production team. That kind of line-up had me salivating even before hearing a single song on Amok.
I’ll get right to the point in saying that Amok isn’t anything drastically different from the stuff we’ve already heard on Yorke’s solo album, and it does sound a lot like the same musical direction that Radiohead’s been taking in the past few years. The majority of the disc is comprised of electronic sounds; beeps, blips, synthesizers – electronica heaven. Yorke sings the entire album in his trademark falsetto. It’s not a bad thing, but I think a part of me was really hoping that Atoms for Peace would have this awesome, grunge rock sound or just something dramatically different from what we’ve heard from Yorke over the past seven or eight years.
The electric sound does work well though, and it’s easy to get lost amongst the busy (though not overwhelming) production. If you can spare the extra brain space to stop focusing on the scattered melodies, there are some lyrics to the songs too, though most are pretty simplistic and repetitive. Where Yorke’s songwriting in the past has been thoughtful and expressive, it’s definitely been toned down here to leave more room to focus on the album’s sound.
At only ten songs, Amok isn’t a very long album. The majority of the tracks run together- you can only hear so many digitized sounds before you stop keeping track of which song you’re listening to. The first time I listened to the album the whole way through, I wasn’t even entirely convinced that I hadn’t just been listening to one really long, 45 minute song. That being said, there are some definite standouts.
“Before Your Very Eyes…” is probably the strongest, most melodic track on the album, and is the only one that really features Yorke’s vocals rather than the backing sound effects. The stripped-back production makes the song stand out, and it ends up being the best effort on the disc. “Ingenue” has a seductive sound that makes me want to dance, while the frantic energy of “Stuck Together Pieces” makes me feel like I’m having a mental breakdown…in a good way, of course. “Unless” starts off quietly, giving off an almost creepy, uneasy feeling, but the emotional repetition of the line, “I couldn’t care less…” makes the entire track for me. “Judge, Jury and Executioner” is resplendent with hand claps and has the most “traditional” sound on the album- relying mostly on just the clapping and guitar than an sound effect pedal or computer.
As a whole, Amok is a great Radiohead album. Wait, I meant: Amok is a great Thom Yorke album. No, no…that’s not right. Amok is a great Atoms for Peace album. There, that’s the one.
Facetiousness aside, Amok is a good album, but it’s nothing too original from Yorke’s repertoire. I almost feel like Flea and Joey Waronker have been turned into Colin Greenway and Phil Selway (Radiohead’s bassist and drummer); none of the sounds from the bands that Flea and Waronker originated from is present, and it’s apparent that Yorke commissioned them merely as musicians, rather than collaborators. Again, that’s not entirely a bad thing – Amok really is an enjoyable album, but I guess I just wish that Thom Yorke wouldn’t have bothered coming up with a whole new group if he was just going to release another Radiohead/solo album.