On their debut album Amok, Atoms for Peace have managed to create a record approximately infinity times sexier than the combined output of the singer’s dayjob.
It's important to remember here that their singer is Radiohead's Thom Yorke, and that Radiohead's music is really, really, really unsexy - certainly it would suggest some pretty outré appetites to claim the frosty Amok was sexy per se. But sexier? For sure.
I’m sure many listeners are liable to see the bottom end-heavy grooves and nagging electronics as its defining characteristic; for me, after a good while with the record – and how nice it is to have a while with a Yorke-fronted product – I feel like the USP is Yorke’s voice. On Amok it’s virtually shorn of the grit and ugliness of Radiohead and his solo outing The Eraser. Instead it’s gentler, lighter, more feminine, sometimes drifting into a cool falsetto, full of chilly soul. “I. Avoid. Your. Gaze” he coos, piercingly at the throbbing climax of the highlight ‘Default’, half numb, half coquettish, sounding not dissimilar to a brooding cousin to Alexis from Hot Chip.
And this modicum of sensuality paves the way for what is, in a way, the poppiest thing any of this lot bar the bassist have ever put their names to. Oh yes, the band: you know this already, but anyway, it's the singer from Radiohead (Yorke), Radiohead’s producer (Nigel Godrich), the comedy bassist from Red Hot Chilli Peppers (Flea), REM’s touring drummer (Joey Waronker)and a session percussionist (Mauro Refosco).
And they do feel like a band: where The Eraser - the project that birthed Atoms for Peace – felt like Yorke trying to make a Radiohead album on his own (and sort of three quarters succeeding), this is something different, a liquid, cohesive world of earworm grooves, sighed vocals, drum-tight bass, buzzing synths, rumbling low end and wonderfully fidgety percussion.
Atoms for Peace undeniably have a bit of a dads-go-down the disco vibe. But it’s almost completely mitigated by the easy-on-the-ear music and vocals, the fact Amok’s not trying to throw down any gauntlets or challenge anyone or break forward into a brave new future. Instead it is what it is, groovesome, textured electronica fleshed into organic warmth by a quintet of very proficient musicians.
The lack of obvious choruses means Amok takes a few listens to acclimatise to. But it really is a tuneful thing one you've got your head around it: the irresistibly sequences of pinging three note riffs that chain ‘Before Your Very Eyes’ to your brain before smothering you in a dreamy sea of synths and sighs; the overwhelmingly kinetic rush of ‘Ingenue’s sudden burst of driving bass and jewelled chiming; ‘Amok’s sudden, unexpected climb into full on soul beauty. There’s a real tautness and economy in the playing, with Refosco and Waronker deserving an abundance of praise two quietly masterful performances that bind everything else together with fluid, precise gravity. Yorke, meanwhile, will almost certainly never contribute nine such pretty vocals to one set of work again. Godrich… I’m not really sure what Godrich does… the sythns? They’re nice, dark and billowy and atmospheric and sparese. And Flea, bless him, certainly fucks nothing up, his bass deep, minimal and driving. The only really naff moment on the record comes with the slightly Rolf Harris-y “bom, bom bom” sound that underpins lead track ‘Judge, Jury and Executioner’, and that's soon subsumed into the rest of the music (and probably isn't even Flea’s fault).
A couple of the songs – ‘Unless’, ‘Reverse Running’ – feel a bit wallpapery. And one can’t help but feel that at the end of the day there’s something rather tasteful about it all. Nonetheless, the lulls are far less pronounced than on the The Eraser, and it’s a far more coherent album than The King of Limbs.
Amok is, above all, a very pleasurable listen, basically just the sound of some talented middle aged dudes enjoying themselves. Let it wash over you, and you’ll enjoy it too.
7Andrzej Lukowski's Score