Atoms for Peace debut a work in progress

Amok shows supergroup’s potential 

It’s here. Sometime in 2009, Thom Yorke hinted at a musical union so powerful, it would transcend all realms of rock.

Longtime Radiohead album artwork collaborator Stanley Donwood lends his signature style to Thom Yorke’s new band. (Courtesy of XL Records)

Longtime Radiohead album artwork collaborator Stanley Donwood lends his signature style to Thom Yorke’s new band.
(Courtesy of XL Records)

The group, consisting of Yorke, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, and Beck’s drummer Joey Waronker accompanied Yorke on a tour for his solo album Eraser, leading to rumours of a potential album. Since then they’ve added Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Mauro Refosco and coined themselves Atoms for Peace.

At first listen, debut album Amok seems to be an electronic progression of Yorke’s solo effort, and a riskier version of Radiohead’s album In Rainbows. Yorke’s voice is melodious and really lingers on tracks like “Default” and rushes through under a layer of synth on “Before Your Very Eyes” just like he did on “OK Computer”.

Yorke takes more of a gamble on his sound, something he may not feel able to do as part of Radiohead. Amok is full of Yorke’s childlike lyrics, which flow particularly well in in “Stuck Together Pieces” as he laments,

Why be rain when you could be sun?
Why tie yourself to anyone? Why be here when you’d be somewhere else? 

The most intriguing part of the album is the nature of the relationship between Flea and Yorke. With his other band, the long-time Chili Peppers star is able to command an audience—even though front men are usually the favourites. Flea has a far quieter presence on the album, meaning no elaborate riffs and no show-boating.

Instead, Flea shines when he offers up low, throbbing bass guitar, such as in “Dropped” which sounds very similar to some of his sound in the 90’s. He blends perfectly into the amalgam that is Atoms for Peace.

Amok starts to click when you stop trying to compare it to anything that the musicians have done in the past. Perhaps people were expecting a super-hybrid of past projects: something containing weepy vocals, flashy guitar, and long drum solos.

[pullquote]”Yorke takes more of a gamble on his sound.”[/pullquote]

Defying expectations, Atoms for Peace have offered up a heavily produced album with long streams of synth and sometimes-distorted vocals, leaving the listener to wonder which sounds haven’t been produced on a computer.

The group mentioned that a mutual love of 70’s Afrobeat led to the album’s conception and this is evident in the catchy “Before Your Very Eyes,” a song which should be the groups next single.

Once the listener can comprehend that these rock demigods are mere mortals, who are still navigating to find their sound, Amok isn’t too bad. The entire disc is filled with an entrancing sound, and the vocals on “Ingenue” in particular are luscious.

Nuclear power? No thanks. This group is filled with genius, with so much potential they just may need to run Amok a bit longer to find their true sound.

Songs to listen to: “Ingenue”, “Default”

OVERALL GRADE: B-

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