by Patrick Williams
Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke’s mastery of making electronic music has led to a liberation of sorts for the genre. It is ironically becoming more accessible to a variety of listeners for its increase of humane themes.
Yorke’s side project Atoms for Peace—consisting of Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, drummer Joey Waronker (R.E.M., Beck), percussionist Mauro Refosco (David Byrne, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ I’m With You) and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, released their debut album, Amok, on Jan. 25.
Yorke basically arranged the whole album himself. So, naturally Amok more closely resembles Yorke’s solo album The Eraser than anything Radiohead has ever done. It is electronic throughout, as opposed to many Radiohead songs that use many but far less electronics. Amok, at the same time, uses more live instrumentation than The Eraser.
The main idea is that Atoms for Peace is not Radiohead nor is it just Thom Yorke. Listeners of Atoms’ previously released singles “Default” and “Judge, Jury and Executioner” already have an idea what the band is about.
“Default” uses excessive and jabbing electronic and live drumming percussion throughout, making it one of the most rhythmically melodic tracks out there—not to mention the synthesizer and distorted bass. Yorke’s aforementioned music mastery is in full force in that his soothing vocals (“I laugh now”) take precedence over the pulsing instrumentation, not the other way around.
“Dropped” is faster and more reverb-soaked then most of the other tracks on the album. It has much more of a traditional, boring 80s electronic sound, especially during the chorus. “Dropped” isn’t as personal as the rest of the album, although it tightens up towards the end. The consistently best part is the bass line.
Flea’s bass is, as one could imagine, much more staccato on Amok than on the Chili Peppers’ albums. The funk flavor is still there, though. It provides a solid juxtaposition with Yorke’s vocal scatting and fierce instrumental arrangements.
Flea lays down an unforgettable bass line on “Stuck Together Pieces.” What may be the most surprising thing about the track is Yorke’s “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi”-like guitar playing and layered solos. It is powerful that Yorke chooses to wait until the album is halfway over to begin to really show off his guitar skills.
The title and last track, Amok, combines Yorke’s piano, distorted hums and whispery vocals with Waronker and Refosco’s clacking percussion and drums to emphasize the simultaneous feelings of spaciousness and complexity present on the album. Flea’s bass loops and Godrich finalizes it all so nicely. Just in the last minute, Amok winds like a spinning top and all perceptions of time are lost in the confusion and there is suddenly nothing left to do but to listen again.