The electronic super group’s debut album is nearly with us and it’s definitely worth all the buzz and anticipation. Atoms for Peace is the brainchild of Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich, and together they are joined by such luminaries as the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, Beck and R.E.M.’s Joey Waronker and percussionist Mauro Refosco. They formed in 2009, ostensibly to perform Thom’s solo album The Eraser live, but since then they have emerged sporadically for festivals and shows, sometimes performing those songs, and sometimes performing their own material.
AMOK is the summation of the band’s collaborative efforts and succeeds through the artistic direction of its de facto leader. It’s unmistakably Thom’s baby, as is reflected by its tone and style, but the other players bring enough of their own personalities to make this a truly interesting record that deserves to be taken on its own merits and not just as a Radiohead side project.
“Before Your Very Eyes…” is an unexpected but quality opener with guitars and percussion that sound more Afrobeat than EDM. This is a really interesting track that works well to establish the sound and feel of the album, with Thom’s signature, echoing falsetto blending seamlessly with buzzing synths and restless, jitery rhythms.
“Default,” the first single to be taken from the record, carries on in much the same fashion, showcasing a great deal of synthetic, percussive variance and one of the strongest grooves on the record. With all the attention paid to heavily produced, electronic sounds it would be easy to forget that there is a live band behind all of this, and together they really come into their own on the proceeding tracks.
“Ingenue” is gorgeous, replete with an instantly catchy refrain and Thom’s typically high vocal range. It sounds like it wouldn’t be out of place on his solo album The Eraser but if all that sounds a bit too familiar for you then there’s the hyperactive dance number “Dropped” and the brain-frying “Unless.” “Dropped” is a fantastic combination of breaks and Flea’s thundering basslines while percussionist Mauro Refosco really stands out on “Unless,” a marvellously barmy tune that recalls the glitchy, out-there productions of Aphex Twin or perhaps even Venetian Snares if he calmed down a bit.
The second half of the album slows into a much more comfortable, easy pace with “Stuck Together in Pieces,” live staple “Judge, Jury and Executioner,” and my personal favourite “Reverse Running.” The first of these is probably the most Radiohead sounding thing on here with subtle, picked guitar and a downbeat mood all held together by a solid bass groove. “Judge, Jury and Executioner” will already be well known to fans and concert attendees, and it’s great that this ethereal, haunted track should finally see release. “Reverse Running” is the standout of the album though, as it brings together everything the band attempts and pulls it off with significant skill and verve. Everyone has something to do here and they all get a chance to shine, and it never feels convoluted or messy.
It may seem a tired thing to say about any band or album but in the case of AMOK you will either like it or dislike it depending on where you stand with Thom Yorke and Radiohead in general. As has been said before, the album is very much the singer and musician’s project and it shows. There are no big choruses, the sound design always bears his and Godrich’s unique stamp, and, suffice to say, it’s all in minor keys.
Atoms for Peace have still managed to produce something that is their own, even if the line between it and their frontman’s band is somewhat blurred. While it does not present a radical departure from the sounds and styles that redefined alternative rock in the early 2000s, it does offer a variety of compelling and exciting assemblages of electronic music and live orchestration, and is well worth the wait.
The entirety of the album can be streamed from their website. See the link below the video.