atomamok

Atoms for Peace
Amok
XL

Atoms for Peace’s debut, Amok, serves more as a Thom Yorke solo follow up to 2006’s The Eraser than as a full-band collaboration – electronic sounds abound within a live set up. Joey Waronker’s drumming sounds more or less like beats off a laptop than coming from an actual drum kit, while Flea delivers nimble bass lines help build the rhythms on the songs but without leading them. Nigel Godrich’s harpsichord-like keyboard melodies trumps much of the instrumentation, but electric and acoustic guitars do pop their head without making an entrance. However, with repeated listens, the album can be a compelling and propulsive listen.

Rippling guitar looks and processed sounds of “Before Your Very Eyes” open Amok, which at first sounds like a rehash of the material used on The Eraser, only with live instrumentation. Still, discerning Flea’s bass on the track makes it a pleasure upon further listening. However, this depends on how much you’re willing to spend listening, as the fair-weather fan will get board quite quickly. Even when Yorke and Godrich implement jagged electronic sounds alongside Yorke’s multi-layer vocal harmonies as on “Dropped,” the sparse use of percussion keeps it from the impact intended.

At its worst, Amok is pleasant electronic music that meanders gently without being effective such as on “Ingenue.” Even when a song has a hypnotic rhythm like “Unless” with its sassy keyboard melodies and subtle use of guitar, it can become grating to decipher just where the song is going… if anywhere. 

However, when the music connects, Amok can be a satisfying experience. The funky “Default” combines Flea’s bass playing with Godrich’s keyboard melodies while Yorke soulfully yet ominously croons in falsetto, “I guess that’s it, I made my bed, I’ll lie on it.” The bass-driven “Stuck Together Pieces” delivers effectively thanks to guitar licks that add an emotional resonance. However, it’s “Judge, Jury and Executioner” that stands as the true highlight of the album with its handclap rhythms, bass lines, subtle acoustic strumming and multi-track vocal harmonies.

When you consider that the songs lack a typical verse-chorus-verse structure, repeated listens are key to figure out Atoms for Peace’s debut. Still, Amok is a fascinating listen that makes this more enjoyable than anything Radiohead has put out since the turn of the century. – Jeff Noller

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