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Atoms for Peace - Run Amok
on 25 February 2013
Atoms for Peace are of a sort of "supergroup" (don't groan!) fronted by Thom Yorke of the popular beat combo Radiohead. Around the table with him are long-time producer Nigel Godrich, the serial collaborator Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, REM/Beck drummer Joey Waronker and another Chili Peppers' luminary Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco. Radiohead's last album "King of Limbs" split the jury with its freeform, quirky and mechanistic beats not least in its first half. It was nonetheless a grower and in any case Yorke shows no desire to play to the gallery and return to the big rock sounds of "The Bends" or "OK Computer".
This project according to Yorke was the product of a session which involved rather too much wine and spirits where he and Flea ended up "tired and emotional" after spending hours listening to Fela Kuti. The influence of African funk rhythms can be clearly located on "AMOK" not least on the nice opener "Before your very eyes" but if anything the star of the show is Goodrich whose synth playing is everywhere. Overall "Amok" is a much happier affair than the "King of Limbs" although in parts its does have some experimentation that's a bit undercooked and for this reviewer doesn't have the immediacy of "Eraser". The album is about shifts and contrasts no more so than on track such as the excellent "Default" with its slabs of synth and typical Yorke lyrics about "making my bed and lying in it". The fourth song "Dropped" is possibly the best thing on "Amok". It is darkly twisted and has a beautifully cynical York vocal which echoes back to "Hail to the Thief" era Radiohead. Some songs, however. such as "Unless" are exercises for the band to show their virtuosity with Flea's slap bass pushing the vehicle forward, but are they great listens? The song "Stuck together pieces" could be a subtitle for the album and is a nice funky little beast with a twist of underlying threat. "Judge, jury and executioner" has an angelic choir like backdrop and really does show the worth of the project where all the sum of the parts fit. The same is true of the fascinating "Reverse Running" and although the debt to Aphex Twin is clear its buzzy six minutes are hugely enjoyable. Not so the title track which is meticulously constructed and clever but does show Yorke's tendency to self-sabotage as you sense there is a better song in here waiting to get out.
Atoms for Peace is a hugely worthwhile side project and if it does represent the state of Yorke musical mind then there is clearly much more mileage to be travelled from his current key influences of UK bass music and bands like Squarepusher and Boards of Canada. AMOK is a genuinely inventive and innovative yet on first listen it is easier to admire than love and truly memorable songs are in short supply. That said much of Yorke's music does creep up on you and unpicking the albums dense fabrics will undoubtedly generate significant rewards.