Atoms For Peace - Amok

What might be dismissed as a re-hashed version of Yorke’s ‘The Eraser’ album soon develops into its own being.

Label: XL Recordings

Rating: 7

When you find out how the debut - and possible standalone - record from Atoms For Peace (the project of Thom Yorke and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, alongside Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco) came about, you begin to see it in a different light. What might be dismissed as a re-hashed version of Yorke’s ‘The Eraser’ album soon develops into its own being. There are obvious connections between ‘Amok’ and the album that helped initially tie down all these musicians to tour together. A lot of the elements are laptop-based, or at least that’s where they stem from. And Yorke tows a line between pent-up, aggressive and oddly solemn, vocally. Same old, same old, you might think.

Many might even render it a new Radiohead record, missing the point entirely. But that’s a natural consequence of placing Thom’s peerless vocal at the forefront of an album. The truth is, this is in a completely different zone to ‘The Eraser’ or any potential ‘King Of Limbs Pt. II’ hardy Radiohead fans were anticipating. The process of three days of ‘jamming’ (rhythmic jamming, Godrich emphasised in a recent interview), the members worked non-stop. As in, they played and played and played. The art was in the editing. Some might connect it to the Miles Davies notion of freeform jazz, connecting ideas in real-time. Yorke and co. don’t shy away from the comparisons. In said interview they in fact welcome them. ‘Amok’ was a process of sourcing the good stuff. They entered the studio with no material and they emerged with twenty, thirty hours’ worth, if not more. ‘Amok’ then, is the magnet that drew out the finest, most engaging material. 

And that’s not entirely apparent at first. ‘Amok’ is a tight, almost-constrained sounding work. To the naked ear that happens upon the album, it initially just sounds like a collection of jerky beats that Yorke and Godrich worked on. It’s easy to dismiss it as a vanity project, even. The band effect comes in subtly, through ‘Dropped”s midway break section, with Flea’s bassline enveloping an eerie, sweeping sound that percussionist Waronker seems to be conjuring up amongst the studio madness. ‘Stuck Together Pieces’ is bass-led, which is remarkable in itself, but in Yorke’s overlapping vocals it has a stark, impressive impact. The closing section is enough to rival seminal Radiohead track ‘Reckoner’. 

Not all of these songs are as fascinating. The catharsis that these guys experience in the space of three days doesn’t always translate. Perhaps that’s the inevitable result of sourcing just 1/50th of the material they ended up writing for a record. ‘Judge Jury And Executioner”s opening section is disturbing and excitable, but the magic dissipates as the song seemingly plods on. And the closing, title-track’s beat-heavy climax - and preceding song ‘Reverse Running’ is guilty of the same thing - slips into over-indulgence. There’s a fine line between experimentation and clear, well-crafted songwriting. In ‘Default’ they hit jackpot. It might be the best song Yorke’s put his name to since ‘In Rainbows’. Similarly, ‘Ingenue”s Luke Abbott-meets-Nosaj Thing’s aesthetic is playful and ever-evolving. There are moments though when the novelty wears thin and you feel like you’re staring into empty space, rather than engaging in the performance that’s taking place in front of you. 

But that’s what ‘Amok’ essentially is: A glorified performance. It’s a coming together of great minds who every so often emerge with something truly special. Expectations are shattered. Those expecting Flea to tread all over the parade with cheesy slap-bass will be mistaken. Anyone hoping for ‘The Eraser’ to fledge further results will be similarly dumbfounded. But taken at token value, ‘Amok’ is a very fine work indeed.