Back in 2009, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke recruited a few celebrity chums, among them Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, to play his 2006 solo album The Eraser in its entirety at a Los Angeles show. Three-and-a-half years and a Radiohead album later, and Yorke’s side project – now mercifully christened Atoms for Peace having originally been presented to fans simply as ‘??????’ – is manifest in recorded form for the first time in Amok.
Lead single ‘Default’, driven by stuttering synth hooks and cut-up percussion, is otherwise a conventional rock song in its structure, presided over by Yorke’s familiar high croon; in these respects it represents the whole album nicely. Much has been made by Yorke of his new band’s attempts to blur the sonic boundaries between man and machine, and certainly the production here achieves just that; percussive sounds are hard to pin down, and warm, organic guitars jostle for prominence with robotic synths.
While effective, the occasional vocal blips and prominent juxtaposition of ‘playing’ with ‘programming’ can feel slightly forced, so that when an apparently disembodied Yorke sighs, on ‘Ingenue’, “If I’m not there now physically, I’m always before you”, it serves both as a summary of the album’s mood and a reminder of what we’re supposed to be hearing. The material here is similar to Yorke’s solo work, and any expectations that a line-up which includes high profile alumni of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and R.E.M would lead to a more creatively collaborative effort are quickly debunked. The band’s name is shared with a track on Yorke’s solo album, and one of the songs here – ‘Judge, Jury and Executioner’ – is also the subtitle of a song on Radiohead’s 2003 album Hail to the Thief.
Opener ‘Before Your Very Eyes…’ could be Radiohead, until after its first chorus when it spills over with fuzzy synths. It’s fitting that Atoms for Peace have presented themselves as so firmly rooted in Yorke’s musical past, as here it is he who pulls the strings – along with, you suspect, Godrich, who has been Radiohead’s producer for nigh on twenty years and has been described as their sixth member. While it may not breech much in the way of new territory, Amok’s genre-blending continues something they started together in 2000 with Kid A, and is proof – as though it were needed – that Yorke’s light shines as brightly as ever.
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