Amok by Atoms for Peace (XL Recordings, 2013. 44 minutes)
Atoms for Peace is an experimental rock super-group consisting of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker of Beck and R.E.M. and Brazilian instrumentalist Mauro Refosco.
Still Ok Computer
It all started with Ok Computer, perhaps the most iconic and acclaimed record of the 90s. In an era where the Internet and computers in general began to emerge as a dominating force in everyday life, Radiohead and Thom Yorke embraced technology with open arms. They said “ok” to these advances and their music reflected that response.
Where the band used to record music in the general style alternative rock, everything post OK Computer built upon a sense of experimentalism. Whenever a computer could add texture and nuance to the band’s sound, everyone said, “ok.”
Even in Yorke’s solo work, the electronic foundation that began 16 years ago functions as a continuous fuel for creativity.
With Amok, the release from Yorke’s new supergroup Atoms for Peace, the passion for experimentalism and electronics continues with a new twist. Where 15 years of experienced pointed Yorke in the direction of the computer, this album see Yorke attempt to recreate the technological feel in a live setting with people playing instruments on each part.
Of course, this is not to say Amok is acoustic or organic; it’s still incredibly experimental. But it represents a new challenge.
The album’s first single, “Default,” illustrates a delicate balance between abstract and accessible. The drums conjure an unsteady rhythm and the chord structures submit to an overarching dread.
Over the top of this structure, Yorke submits:
“I laugh now / But later’s not so easy / I’ve gotta stop / The will is strong, but the flesh is weak / Guess that’s it / I’ve made my bed, I’m lying in it”
Thematically, “Default” introduces the major motif running through Amok —the use of apocalyptic imagery to depict an unsettled soul.
These lyrical and sonic themes continue in the album’s next tune, “Ingenue.” The rough bass line serves as a lineament in the tune while Yorke ponders:
“You know like the back of your hand / Your bell jar / Your collection / Ingenue”
Clearly referencing Sylvia Plath and her classic novel, The Bell Jar, Yorke introduces us to our main character, the ingénue, a naïve young woman unaware of the world and all the destruction that orbits her.
Judge, Jury, and Executioner
With a careless youth and an unsettled atmosphere, it’s clear the album launches its listeners on a path toward destruction, most clearly depicted in the arrhythmic, apocalyptic tune, “Judge, Jury and Executioner.”
“Thin persecutors / The twisted vespers / A horned reptile that is crawled upon the earth”
Lyrically, Yorke takes great pains to communicate that everything is amok.
Ok with Everything Amok?
But is Amok a good record? I’m not entirely convinced. From a critical perspective, I understand what Yorke is attempting and I appreciate the concept of innovating by returning to instruments while simultaneously continuing to “ok” the computer.
But at a sensory level, Amok doesn’t do much for me. The songs tend to blend together and Yorke’s melodies do nothing to cut through the jumbled beats. Amok is a worthy contribution to Yorke discography, but I find it difficult to give it a recommendation.
Verdict: 3 out of 5