Atoms for Peace – “Amok”
Everyone has an opinion of Radiohead. Some regard them as one the most innovative groups in rock and experimental music, while many label the band overrated and pretentious. What makes Radiohead such a polarizing group is the mastermind behind it all: Thom Yorke. Yorke is one of the few popular musicians to bring experimental music to the masses. With his ambitious take on music and art he is also cast as one of the most pretentious front men in modern music. All of that aside, whatever you think of Thom, Radiohead must be given praise for bringing their radical sonic experiments to the masses. In 2006 Thom made a small departure from Radiohead to release his first solo record The Eraser. Thom Yorke presented a collection of challenging and artsy electronic tracks with even fewer guitar parts than Radiohead’s modern-classic Kid A. This LP was a glitchy and minimal version of Radiohead that would later become the sound and feel of albums such as The King of Limbs. After years of extensive solo touring, another Radiohead album, and a music video showcasing Thom’s dance moves we get the news that Yorke’s next album will be a collaboration with some unexpected musical figures.
Atoms for Peace is a super-group of Thom Yorke, long-time Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, session drummer for Beck and R.E.M. Joey Waronker, percussionist from Brazil Mauro Refosco, and bassist virtuoso Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers. Fans of Radiohead and Red Hot Chili Peppers alike found the pairing of such huge stars in music such as Thom Yorke and Flea interesting and a tad bit bizarre. One would expect their record to contain bleak melancholic electronics with funky slapped bass on top of it. As interesting of a listen as that would have been, Atoms for Peace became a more cohesive experimental electronic and rock band.
After the release of the albums single “Default”, Amok released in February. Listeners found many similarities between this release, Thom Yorke’s The Eraser, and Radiohead’s The King of Limbs. Amok contains the bleak and angular electronics that filled The Eraser but with the organic and fluid grooves that are very similar to tracks like Lotus Flower and Feral on The King of Limbs. The album opens with a wonderfully danceable drum and guitar riff on the track “Before Your Very Eyes…” to showcase what is to come on this album. Unlike The Eraser the drums are much more detailed and meticulously orchestrated with more world-music-influenced percussion. What makes this album more natural than most electronic albums is the influence of afro-beat. In interviews with Thom Yorke, he cited Jazz Fusion/Afro-beat legend Fela Kuti as a major influence on Atoms for Peace. Upon the first minute of “Before Your Very Eyes…” it requires you to listen very closely to how Flea will perform in this electronic setting. Unlike Red Hot Chili Peppers or any other project Flea has been involved with the funk-punk superhuman takes a backseat and tones down his style to enhance the groove and the band as a whole. Other standout tracks such as “Default” and “Ingenue” also hits this stride of wonderful grooves with Yorke’s signature vocals.
What Atoms for Peace does so well is making music that is very aesthetically pleasing. While this might not be the most colorful and vibrant album, Atoms for Peace makes cold and dark EDM that is still very human and alive. The mix of Yorke’s signature depressive falsetto paired with Flea’s own eccentric funk-iness finds a happy medium between chilling electronic music and artful and danceable rock. The sparse and light rhythms on tracks such as “Stuck Together Pieces” would make any minimalist fall in love. Amok is a beautifully bleak album that makes the perfect sound track for a rainy drive to work with a coffee in hand.
No matter your personal preference of music, Amok is a worthwhile listen for even the biggest of Radiohead-haters. Flea brings a healthy does of funky weird-ness as Thom juxtaposes him with his cold but detailed electronic beats. Even if you are opposed to anything EDM, we still find Atoms for Peace being very raw and organic. And even if Thom Yorke is your musical arch nemesis, you cannot deny the beauty in these low-key danceable grooves. Regardless any stigma you may have with modern music, Atoms for Peace can please anyone’s musical taste buds.
Review by James Calvet.