Atoms For Peace // AMOK // February 25, 2013 // XL
It has been claimed that AMOK, a collaboration between Thom Yorke of Radiohead, Flea of Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Nigel Godrich of Ultraista and a whole lot of other people was partly conceived thanks to one night where they all got wasted and played pool. Then there’s the story that they jammed for three days and came up with around 30 hours of music. As if we needed another reason to think that this is going to be weirder than it could possibly need to. There’s two sides to AMOK, and while none of them have the depth and expression of the best that Radiohead have to offer, Atoms For Peace’s debut record is a solid and engaging, if a bit vacant listen all the way through.
One way to look at AMOK and the whole Atoms For Peace idea is by simply discarding it and approaching this as a second solo album by Thom Yorke with a backing from a full band. Atoms For Peace take their name from a song on Yorke’s solo debut The Eraser, a beatific collection of piano driven IDM ditties that stand as the only reason why James Blake sounds like he does. AMOK features the same level of experimentation within rhythmically driven electronic music without taking it to the dancefloor like he does when he drops in unexpectedly on Burial and Four Tet singles. The Eraser found Yorke coming away from Radiohead’s first rock album in quite a while, Hail To The Thief. In retrospect, his solo effort had echoes of that sound while managing to make his own songs sound singular. AMOK acts in the same way when placed against the sparse electronic comedown of The King Of Limbs. It mostly skips the guitar, forming an entity out of vocals, krautrock keyboards and layers upon layers of percussion. It may be a tad disrespectful to the other members in the band but by the time you hear the guitar in Stuck Together Pieces, the fact becomes undeniable that sometimes, the rest of Atoms For Peace don’t bring anything to the table.
AMOK doesn’t feel as singular as The Eraser. From here we can approach the second side to the record, an idea that it is actually a collective work rather than one man’s idea finding its shape among a bunch of talented characters. With percussion largely reminiscent of the busier Radiohead moments like Idioteque and 15 Step, backed with his own trademark spaced out vocals, Thom Yorke is still very much the centre of AMOK’s universe. The record borrows the power of Radiohead’s household producer Nigel Godrich as the clarity and emphasis towards the textures makes AMOK feel like a Radiohead record if the band didn’t have its second contender to that centre, Johnny Greenwood. Unsurprisingly, or perhaps surprisingly, depending on where you stand on the RHCP issue, Flea is the singular factor on here that is responsible for this second idea. His funky basslines are quite unlike anything Yorke has attached himself to in the past and it’s arguably the singular sound on here that prevents AMOK from being an undeniable solo record. They get warped within the repetition and bring some much needed life to a record that can often feel cold as ice.
When it comes to the songs themselves, Yorke’s vocals are largely faded out and overly familiar while the steady percussion backed with analog synths make an overall experience a rather pale one when compared to what these people do during their day jobs. AMOK is a solid effort with songs that mesmerise rather than capture attention. Considering the roster involved, we wished that this album would’ve been a bit more showy, showed a little bit more colour. As a Thom Yorke solo record, AMOK is very respectable while not quite as good as The Eraser. As a collective work, it points to one man who provided these sketches which, even if fleshed out on here, still feel eerily vacant. I think we’re going to go with the former idea.