Atoms for Peace is an experimental electronic supergroup that consists of Thom Yorke (Radiohead’s lead singer), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist), Nigel Godrich (Radiohead’s producer), Joey Waronker (R.E.M.’s and Beck’s drummer), and Mauro Refosco (Forro in the Dark’s percussionist).
The group formed in 2009 to perform Yorke’s first solo album, The Eraser, whose overt electronic tendencies grew out of Radiohead’s 2000 track Idioteque and especially the experimental electronica that dominated the band’s 2007 full-length, In Rainbows.
Considering Atoms for Peace’s birth in The Eraser, it makes sense to see the band as Yorke’s baby. The band also allows Radiohead fans to discern more easily Yorke’s individual influences: Björk, Aphex Twin, DJ Shadow, Burial, Four Tet, Flying Lotus, Fennesz, Brian Eno, and Boards of Canada.
So what does Amok sound like? For starters, it definitely doesn’t sound like Radiohead – or any kind of traditional rock and roll, for that matter.
When you spin Amok, you must prepare yourself for a challenging ride. Yorke and company aren’t out to make things easy for you by rehashing songs that sound like Radiohead’s greatest hits.
Tracks like Before Your Very Eyes, Ingénue, and Stuck Together Pieces are teases because they’re founded on rather traditional vocal melodies, guitar riffs, and cool Flea bass stylings. But the fresh electronic sounds that enter halfway through these songs give you a taste of what Amok is really about.
For example, the second track - Default - pulls the rug of opening track Before Your Very Eyes out from under you. The song is about electronic sounds and processed vocals. Its placement right after Before Your Very Eyes wants to show that the structural principals of rock and roll are out of date.
Your response to Amok will depend on your willingness to accept what Yorke tries to prove and to journey with Atoms for Peace into new sonic realms.
But don’t all vital artists invite you on similar journeys? Think about records like Bringing It All Back Home, Rubber Soul, Pet Sounds, Coltrane’s Meditations, White Light/White Heat, Trout Mask Replica, Low, London Calling, Achtung Baby, Loveless, and, yes, OK Computer - really any record of your choice on which artists make a dramatic departure from their past – and you’ll get the point of Amok and Yorke’s life work. The record and the man seek to expand your consciousness by giving you new sonic landscapes in which to be.
Unless is a perfect example of Yorke’s importance as a creator. The track begins to challenge you somewhere near its middle, when Waronker and Refosco’s percussion joins forces with Flea’s bass and a looped Yorke vocal to create a triumphant rhythm that’s quite possibly unlike anything you’ve heard before.
Amok slams to an unsettling conclusion with the off-kilter and beat-heavy Judge, Jury and Executioner, Reverse Running, and Amok. The former mixes Yorke’s acoustic guitar, Jeff Buckley-influenced vocals, beats that sound like handclaps, and Flea’s soulful bass. Reverse Running also emphasizes beats, but they’re incongruous with the rest of the song, setting you on edge and making you experience the discomfort inherent in lyrics about a person who “feels seen through” and that life “doesn’t mean anything.” And Amok, with its dark bass line, varied percussion, and processed Yorke vocals, is simply ominous.
Amok isn’t for everyone. Its lineage is Stockhausen, Can, Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin, and Fennesz. It’s only occasionally grounded in rock and roll – and its emphasis on sounds and moods over songs doesn’t make it a very memorable listen. But it’s nonetheless an important album because it shows Thom Yorke – one of contemporary music’s greatest minds – at his creative best. (Click here to stream Amok in full).