Thom Yorke has never been one to be content with repetition, and his new project with the band Atoms For Peace, "Amok," proves to be one of the truest examples of his constant desire to reinvent himself throughout his career. Not since Radiohead’s 2000 release “Kid A" have we heard Yorke writing songs like we get from his new group’s debut release.
Atoms For Peace is a group of musicians assembled by Yorke himself, consisting of long-time Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich on keyboards, session drummer Joey Waronker, percussionist Mauro Refosco, and none other than Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist, Flea. Since the album focuses so heavily on electronic dance-style music, the rhythm section, arguably one of the best in the business, have to be air-tight in their rhythms, and the group never falters to provide flawless beats for Yorke and company to truly shine over.
Fans of Radiohead’s "Kid A" will find themselves in familiar territory with Yorke’s latest offering. The nine songs in "Amok" sound like they very well could have been ideas floating around in Yorke’s head back in 2000. This isn’t to say you’re buying a “Kid A” remake; however, quite the opposite in fact. The new rhythm section Yorke has assembled brings a completely new feel to his unpredictability.
As soon as you pop in “Amok” one doesn't know quite what to expect, but less than a minute the listener gets a general idea of what they may think is in store from the group’s collaboration. When “Before Your Very Eyes … ” starts playing, the listener immediately feels like they've never heard anything exactly like it, yet it still sounds familiar. Yorke’s signature voice, sounding better than ever, comes in on top of a sparse guitar and percussion arrangement, while Flea follows shortly with a bass line that couldn’t be mistaken as anyone else.
Many people give Yorke grief for being too sad in his music, but with his latest offering he finally sounds like he is in a good mood. On “Default” he sounds like a new man, but that isn’t to say old habits die easily. When one looks into the lyrics, it’s evident that things still aren’t exactly peachy in Yorke’s head as he croons, “I laugh now, but later it’s not so easy.”
"Ingenue," the album’s third track, is easily one of the finest pieces of electronic music ever recorded. Much of the album was created through jam sessions that were later spliced together in some of the finest engineering heard in years, and the beginning of “Ingenue” is a fine example. The song starts with what appears to be Godrich noodling on keyboards, but once the entire band kicks in the song becomes a beautiful collection of Yorke’s excellent falsetto, simple keyboard lines, and a beat so tight that John Bonham himself would be proud.
“Stuck Together Pieces” has Flea, who has played a rather restrained role so far, pushing his bass at the forefront. Flea lays down a bass line with his signature groove sure to please fans who came just to hear his contribution to the album. The song flows along as smoothly as any song Yorke ever wrote, but the combined efforts of the new rhythm section make this song one of the highest points of the album.
To be 100 percent clear: this is not a new Radiohead album, and fans who come to "Amok" with hopes of it being one will likely listen in disgust. The album needs to be approached with an open mind, but if one must compare Atoms For Peace to Radiohead, “Judge, Jury and Executioner” is about the only option one will truly have.
If listeners come to “Amok” for any of the single parts, they might not be too impressed; rather, it’s the sum of its whole that makes it the album it is. The album doesn’t favor any of the members' previous musical influences, and like mentioned earlier, it’s an album that sounds quite unlike anything ever heard before, which is a terribly rare thing all too often as of late.