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Atoms For Peace – AMOK

on February 25, 2013, 12:03am
Atoms For Peace Amok C-
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A lone rat scurries about on a floating piece of driftwood. A melting palm tree slumps towards its inevitable fall near Crossroads of the World. A passenger’s struggling hands materialize on the backseat window of a sinking wagon. A lost traveler clutches the bow of his dinghy, while an ominous hooded seaman navigates at ease nearby. Not too far away, a man clutches a winded telephone pole, no doubt screaming for help towards the erratic soldier a street over, who stands guard above the apocalyptic wasteland that is Los Angeles. Not even Disneyland makes it out alive in Stanley Donwood’s gloomy artwork for AMOK, presented in full at the album’s terrifying official site.

Similarly, loneliness floods the debut album for Thom Yorke’s star-studded side project, Atoms For Peace. Despite being surrounded by some of the industry’s top-level talent – Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, all-star session drummer Joey Waronker, and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco — AMOK comes off as an email attachment from the deep, dark abyss that is Yorke’s mind. Words like “processed” or “mechanical” spur to mind, which isn’t exactly surprising given the songwriter’s hints to Rolling Stone last fall: ”One of the things we were most excited about was ending up with a record where you weren’t quite sure where the human starts and the machine ends.”

Disappointing isn’t the right word to describe the end result, but it’s close. With the release of 2006’s The Eraser, Yorke didn’t have to deal with any adrenalized expectations, simply because he didn’t tout unique collaborations as he does with AMOK. Flea was still busy carving out his double-album Stadium Arcadium, Waronker was flirting with Hollywood scores, and Refosco was putting together his outfit, Forro in the Dark. Now, with a full band and not just a laptop of possibilities, Yorke sets the bar high for a team effort that could be unique and maybe even intimidating — instead, it’s what one would have expected in the summer of 2006.

Something was lost in the two years of tinkering between Yorke and Godrich. As the producer explained in the aforementioned interview, many of the beats and riffs behind AMOK’s nine tracks date back to 2010, when the outfit spent three days together in Los Angeles to snapshot the energy they exhibited on their critically acclaimed, short-lived tour. Yorke spoke highly of this time, stating: “We got wasted, played pool, and listened to Fela Kuti all night. It was that idea of trance-ing out. But there are still songs here.”

He’s not wrong; there are plenty of songs on AMOK. Album opener “Before Your Very Eyes…” caresses with sticky, glazed distortion and hand-chaffed claps; lead single “Default” haunts with spookhouse bass and dizzying beats, agreeably cribbed from 2003’s Hail to the Thief; “Dropped” torments over digital sparks and schizophrenic melodies; “Stuck Together Pieces” drills down found sounds and Yorke’s strongest vocal hooks; and “Judge Jury and Executioner” nibbles by with organic guitar work that sips from caffeine beats. These are the areas where the album squeezes the fruits of their labors, sounding less claustrophobic and more expansive.

Yet much like Radiohead’s polarizing 2011 album, The King of Limbs, the many devils are in the very, very small details. Ignore Yorke’s wallowing vocals on “Unless” and, instead, zero in on the John Carpenter-inspired drone hook that stalks the background no different from Halloween‘s The Shape. On “Ingenue”, focus on the bass as Flea cranes his fingers, all behind Godrich’s showering arrangements, which later dazzle on “Reverse Running” — especially in the rapturous closing 50 seconds that outsmart the closing title track.

Hear it? Yorke’s crew is there, but in parts, and that’s the real snub to AMOK. Only does “Stuck Together Pieces” mirror those wild, Fela Kuti-soundtracked nights Yorke discussed (which is why it’s the album’s strongest track), and that’s pretty unfortunate given they had eight other opportunities to bottle that collaborative lightning. It all goes back to the seclusive pathos Yorke and Godrich injected alone together over those two years on their laptops. Godrich summarized it as “a backward idea – and a step into the unknown.”

It was a step in the wrong direction. By meddling with the organic nature of those days and nights together as an actual band, Godrich and Yorke wound up with another take on The Eraser. These songs don’t say anything about Atoms For Peace that Yorke’s solo album didn’t already say about himself. Far from capturing their kinetic live energy, AMOK feels as isolated, distraught, and feeble as the characters littered about in Donwood’s tragic portrait. Though, perhaps that’s always been Yorke’s intention; after all, he says it best in the album’s closing lines: “I’m trying to be a thought killer.” Next time around, Thom, step away from the knife and let it live.

Essential Tracks: “Stuck Together Pieces”, “Judge Jury and Executioner”, and “Dropped”

Feature artwork by Drew Litowitz:

atoms amok litowitz1 e1361721796530 Album Review: Atoms For Peace   AMOK

Purchase this artwork (via Society6): Print || Canvas || iPhone Case || Laptop Skin

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14 comments

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Michael Link
March 2, 2013 at 1:54 pm

I’m glad to see someone with the nerve and honesty to call this album out for what it is.

Jude
March 2, 2013 at 1:49 pm

According to Metacritic’s accumulation of ratings from leading music publications, “Amok” is the worst album released by Radiohead or Yorke. Of all the albums released since January, it’s ranked 96th in ratings! I think the 3/5 average rating is actually too generous; I’d give it a 2. http://www.metacritic.com/music/amok/atoms-for-peace

Ryan Beets
March 12, 2013 at 3:50 pm

You are absolutely insane. First off, Amok sounds NOTHING like The Eraser. I mean nothing. How anyone who is a musician or knows even a little bit about music could say that is mind boggling. Second of all, Amok is VASTLY superior to The Eraser in every way. It is fashionable to trash everything Thom Yorke does. Just like the Kid A naysayers were forced to eat their words several years down the road when it became clear that album was a classic, so too will the negative reviews of this brilliant album provide embarrassment to those who are forced to reassess in several years time. I respect your opinion, Michael, but I think the day will come that you are mortified by this critique. Amok is the best thing Yorke has done since In Rainbows.

I’d be very interested to know how many DEDICATED listens (on good headphones or a good system) you had given this album when you posted this laughable opinion. Couldn’t have been more than 1 or 2.

Guest
April 13, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Amok stinks, and a month later it’s already sunk without a trace.

Jude
March 2, 2013 at 1:43 pm

“The Eraser” was a masterpiece, the most under-rated album in Radiohead/Yorke’s discography. “Amok,” on the other hand, is a big disappointment, and a slide down from the disappointing “King of Limbs,” which at least had some great songs and which was rescued by some really nice remixes and a great From the Basement performance (“Staircase” – wow!).

Justin Metz
February 26, 2013 at 10:55 pm

I understand the review’s critiques, but lost somewhere by the reviewer is the fact that Atoms For Peace was assembled to play the tracks on the Eraser. As a result, the band is first and foremost an extension of the sound on the Eraser, and so naturally the songs and band are A. wholly Yorke’s creations and B. modeled after the work laid down on The Eraser and the subsequent live tour that followed. Amok feels like a very natural progression from The Eraser, which is what it is supposed to be. This reviewer seems upset that the disc isn’t what he wants it to be, and is instead completely lost on what it actually is.

Michael Roffman
February 26, 2013 at 11:56 pm

No, I understand all of that. I just think it’s a lost opportunity and defeats the purpose of having the included talent. Like I said, “Stuck Together Pieces” is a great glimpse of that organic construction — the rest just pales in comparison. And really, it doesn’t have to do with what I want, it has to do with what could have been. But hey, we all have our views.

Thanks for reading!

Landon Donivan
February 28, 2013 at 9:10 pm

i really hope you are regretting your review now cause after more days of listening, this review really is off the mark. i mean, how can you say it is a lost opportunity, are you not hearing flea’s bass, he is laying down some gorgeous bass on this album, are you not hearing the fantastic percussion on the album as waronker and refosco merge beautifully together and allow thom’s vocals, which are some of the best of his career, to weave in and out of all this going around him. i think you need to listen again with a good set of headphones and get back to us. u don’t have to like the album but some of your comments make me question your judgement simply cause they don’t make any sense

binky132@yahoo.com
February 25, 2013 at 12:23 pm

can’t stand this crap. seeing him acting like a fool DJ just makes me want to throw up. pick up the guitar and stick to making music the old fashion way.

DiscoNesi
February 26, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Maybe you should read this and lighten up. Or, go on believing you are Thom Yorke and that you should dictate how he lives his life.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2013/feb/23/thom-yorke-radiohead-interview

DiscoNesi
February 25, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Couldn’t disagree more. This is an excellent album. The instruments all seem to be used for beat creation instead of melody in many places which is a rare thing. I agree with Landon, just because this isn’t Kid A, or Ok Computer, doesn’t mean it isn’t a great album.

It is impossible to completely dissociate Thom Yorke from Radiohead when listening to this album, but you should. This is a different band all together. Their shows have completely different feels, Thom acts differently on stage, and this group is definitely more into creating a groove than some of the melodic soundscapes Radiohead creates.

Maybe you should put on some nice headphones and listen to the Flac version of the album.

Fernando J. Infanzon
February 25, 2013 at 9:16 am

This is a classic album. You guys are going to regret this review, trust me.

Landon Donivan
February 25, 2013 at 3:23 am

i disagree, AMOK is very impressive stuff and most reviews agree with that.

the unfortunate thing for thom yorke, although he doesn’t read reviews so he won’t care, is that he has set such high standards for himself with radiohead’s back catalog that if he creates an album that is not up to that of OK computer or Kid A, then the review tends to go a bit like ‘well, its a terrible album although all the songs are brilliant but not as good as OK computer so its a terrible album even though it is the best album of the year but not groundbreaking in any way so its no good but we love it cause its better than everyone else so we will give it 6/10, next up is a new album from justin bieber, we’ll give it 8/10 which means according to us he is better than Thom Yorke although Thom Yorke is the greatest musician ever.’

the king of limbs suffered the same, because radiohead are expected to make the greatest album of all time every time and be innovative in some way on every album, if they fall short of this, even if it is a brilliant album, it is given a negative review which is very unfair on them. One great and innovative album from them is more than enough, the fact that they have created at least 4 masterpieces in their career means that no one should have the right to criticise them or thom for not changing the world with every new album they release.

MortifiedPenguin1
March 21, 2013 at 10:37 pm

I dont see any of that here. This review is very self-contained – The author believes that the newly formed supergroup didn’t fully utilize their talent. At no point does he compare this to any Radiohead material. Also, I’m not sure where Justin Bieber comes into play… seems like a lazy way of tossing in a well-known musical punching bag to somehow back up your defense.

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