It feels more like the second chapter in Thom Yorke’s solo career than an entirely new band, but supergroup Atoms for Peace’s Amok is an incredibly rich and colourful album that perfectly blends instruments and electronics. Like The Eraser, it may not be an album that will be held in the same esteem as the likes of Kid A and In Rainbows, but it is a beautifully satisfying album to indulge in.
Atoms for Peace brings together a unique mix of talent. Thom Yorke and long-term producer Nigel Godrich are backed by the band that performed tracks from Yorke’s first solo album The Eraser for some rare live dates- Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Beck’s Joey Waronker on drums and guest percussionist Mauro Refosco. Interviews reveal that Amok is a result of extended jams inspired by “getting wasted and listening to afrobeat”, which is instantly apparent on opening track ‘Before Your Very Eyes’, which mixes afrobeat rhythms with modern electronica. Despite the calibre of talent involved, it’s clear that Yorke was calling the shots, as familiar off-key, glitchy sounds and twitchy rhythms sound as if Thom wrote this to suit his on-stage dancing. However it is when Flea takes the lead that the most enjoyable, melodic moments come, such as the mid-song acceleration in ‘Dropped’ and the rolling bass line of ‘Stuck Together Pieces’ – and luckily there’s no slap bass to be found.
The album so perfectly blends electronics with instruments that it can be difficult to work out when you’re listening to the band and when you’re listening to technology. The only constant while the two interlace is Yorke’s ghostly falsetto vocals, which feel as if they are floating around the constantly changing scenery. Yorke’s vocals, particularly in ‘Ingenue’ are so soft and subtle they almost feel like they’re about to be dissolved by the synths. For an album that is incredibly layered, the lyrics are fittingly very minimal, often utilising clichéd turns of phrase such as ‘Default”s “I made my bed, I’m lying in it”– which is to be expected considering Yorke originally didn’t even want to include vocals on the album.
And it isn’t just the lyrics that Yorke decided to hold back on. One of the only disappointing aspects of Amok is that most songs feature a familiar build up toward an epic Radiohead-esque climax, but then pull back just before they get there. This held-back feeling is unsurprising given that in recent times Yorke has gone off making “bangers” (see: The King of Limbs), but nevertheless it is hard not to be slightly disappointed when tracks such as ‘Unless’ and ‘Dropped’ just never quite reach their full potential. Closing track ‘Amok’ almost feels like the crescendo you’ve been waiting for, but again, it just doesn’t quite get there.
Overall though this is a very small criticism. Every track is beautifully layered and melodic, with bass and synthesisers that feel warm enough to make you overlook any frustrations. Atoms for Peace have successfully made electronic music sound incredibly organic, and the chemistry of the band is spot-on. Thom Yorke has managed once again to make something both inventive and sophisticated, and it’s a joy to listen to.By Jonny Dale