Atoms for Peace 'Amok'
By Wesley Jakacki
February 26, 2013
Atoms for Peace started very differently than many supergroups: on tour.
The project started when Thom Yorke, frontman of Radiohead, released his sparse, electronic solo album called The Eraser all the way back in 2006. In 2009, Yorke got the idea to tour the album he created mostly with his laptop with a live, organic band to bring it fully to life. He assembled a heavily percussive band in Flea (bass) of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Joey Waronker (drums) of Beck and numerous other alt-rock projects, Mauro Refosco (percussionist) of Forro In The Dark, and legendary Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich (programming, producer) to make this mostly synthesized, glitchy album full-bodied and warm-blooded. The nameless band debuted The Eraser and some fresh material live at the EchoPlex in L.A. in October 2009, and something really sparked with this all-star lineup. A full-blown U.S. tour would follow in 2010, as well as deciding to name the band in "Atoms for Peace," coming from the Eraser song of the same name. Now, four years since its conception, the band releases their debut album in Amok, which many will call a followup to Thom Yorke’s solo effort, but is actually a sound entirely new bringing the strengths of each member to bear.
Amok blazes out of the gate with ”Before Your Very Eyes,” a song that has the incredible precision and meticulousness of a Radiohead song but is incredibly warm and lively by comparison. The rhythm and drive of the song is straight Afrobeat, a place where Flea, Yorke, and others have cited getting influence and for this. It's new territory for Yorke, who has always pulled from left-field electronic, pre-Skrillex era dubstep, and other electronic genres but rarely so blatantly from world music. The choice makes perfect sense though, since Afro-beat music is similarly repetitious, rhythmically complex, and hypnotic like much electronic music, but is completely organic. It's sort of like humanizing electronic music.
Lead single “Default” follows, and is more of the electronic paranoia of The Eraser, but brings in way more syncopation and competing rhythms than it ever did. “Default” also finds Yorke playfully paraphrasing Matthew 26:41 repeating “The will is strong, but the flesh is weak,” in seductive, spellbinding manner. “Ingenue” follows with a glacier-pace synth line that just slightly traces the rhythm making for an interesting tension back and forth between the almost hip-hoppy percussion and the main synth melody as Yorke soothingly coos along. “Unless” starts with a similarly slow synth line but quickly picks up with feverish dubstep sounding like it could have been a lost track of Radiohead’s last album King of Limbs – which may be a better comparison point for Amok than The Eraser.
Waronker and Flea both come from more playful bands in Beck and Red Hot Chili Peppers respectively, and both have seemingly loosened up Yorke, resulting in a more mellow sound than Yorke's day job. “Dropped” and “Stuck Together Pieces” stand as the most fun tracks, with “Dropped” opening at a quick pulsating synth that then falls down the swirling black hole on the chorus that Yorke often pulls the listener into. “Stuck Together Pieces” pulls its sounds from the rhythmic junk yard, pulling out ratchety, ringing, and tapping percussive elements all brought together by Flea’s creative bass lines and the band’s smooth vocal harmonies.
If The Eraser was simple math, then Amok is calculus. It's an album that gently invites you in, but rewards you for staying. It’s not overcooked and overworked like so many supergroup albums: it’s understated yet rich in textures and layers. And it’s more than just Yorke making a new batch of solo songs: it’s a collaborative and rhythmic ride throughout.