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 favourites, 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 was thrilled. 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 got pretty excited.
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 long-time 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.
Before Your Very Eyes starts off the album, and is probably the strongest, most melodic track. It’s also the only song that really features Yorke’s vocals rather than the backing sound effects. The rattling synth and seductive guitar line give off an atmospheric sound, which works well, and the track ends up being the best effort on the disc.
The dark sound of Default is slightly unsettling, with a forebodingly heavy drum loop. The shadowy feeling dissipates slightly during the chorus, but the ominous lyrics (“I laugh now/But later’s not so easy/I’ve gotta stop/The will is strong/But the flesh is weak/Guess that’s it/I’ve made my bed, I’m lying in it…”) don’t really make way for a cheerful song.
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 a sound effect pedal or computer. It also boasts one of the catchiest choruses on the album- a simple refrain of the song’s title.
The rest of the disk is decent enough, if not a bit forgettable. Ingénue 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. Both Reverse Running and Dropped sound remarkably like some of Yorke’s solo stuff, or even some of the tracks on Radiohead’s Amensiac album. Unlessstarts 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.
The album comes to a close with the title track, Amok, another generally unremarkable song, save the interesting flow of the lyrics (“A penny for your thoughts, my love/They’re spaghetti/They possess me/I’m trying to be a thought killer/They come back to bite me…”).
At only nine 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 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.