Chances are if you clicked on this, you know the spectacle that is Radiohead, and to that extent, Thom Yorke. Yorke's side projects all revolve around electronica and making something ethereal about it. For some of his projects, he brings some of the best musicians together to create something out of this world.
That's where Atoms For Peace comes in. Originally formed in 2009 as a way to perform songs from Yorke's 2006 solo album The Eraser live, Atoms For Peace quickly became something more than just the Radiohead frontman with a prolific backing band. They became their own band, ultimately leading up to their 2013 debut. Atoms For Peace's AMOK brought some brilliant minds together to create even more brilliant sounds.
Brilliance isn't quantifiable by simply looking at intricacy. In fact, especially in the case of Radiohead, you can find brilliance in the space each song creates and the emotions they exhibit. Look at 'Unless' - it's a pretty simple song in terms of execution, but as you listen to it you get caught up in this uneasy feeling that has a groovy beat to it. It builds with beautiful electronic swells as Yorke's ghastly voice croons gently above the continually growing black hole that is the song's instrumental. Something similar can be found in 'Judge, Jury and Executioner,' which has a poppy and optimistic beat backed by a baritone groove but is contrasted by Yorke's haunting, echoing vocals to create a very unique setting.
If there's one thing you can say about this record, you can definitely say it has groove. Perhaps Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist Flea is to thank, as his sense of groove has proven to be solid (to say the least) consistently throughout all projects he's been involved with. The basslines of AMOK are definitely a major part of the record, appearing confidently above all the electronics in many songs. Closing track 'Amok' has a very bright and apparent bassline throughout it's run, Yorke's haunting choir of voices accentuating it's curiosity as the song builds creepily to end the album on a big note. The slight chunkiness to the bass in 'Dropped' also offers some drive as it interacts with the punchy, bouncy synth line that occurs throughout the track.
The fun vibe of opening track 'Before Your Very Eyes...' can also thank the bassline for adding to its groove, though this track is really a culmination of everything working together to create something fun and exciting. The gentle build of the track as it evolves into a more ethereal track makes it a tad more serious than the other "fun" tracks, but all the same it maintains its mood and groove all the way through. Following this track is the jagged swagger of 'Default,' a track that's constantly interjecting itself with blasts of sounds and new repeating motifs.
As is with anything Thom Yorke touches, there's also stark beauty on this record. 'Ingenue' has a great synth intro followed by a more restrained beat to it, giving keyboardist and long-time Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich his chance to really shine. The synth almost sounds tortured in a way as it cries and begs to burst. Yorke's voice is wispy and gentle, providing a darker tone to the song, with Flea's bassline accompanying the vocals in just the perfect way. There's a lot going on in this track that make it so great, such as the sampled water drops in the background and the harmonizing bass, but in the end it's the track's naked beauty and ethereal atmosphere that really makes it shine. The same idea is present in the slightly more upbeat sounding 'Reverse Running' (which has a really great percussion composition delivered by R.E.M. and Beck drummer Joey Waronker and percussionist Mauro Refosco), but this all lies in the moody chord progressions and the slow but immense build of chaos as the track concludes.
Atoms For Peace's sole album is a beast, but a gentle one. Instead of gnashing it's sharp teeth at you, it allows you to explore them and find its true nature within its soul. The core of AMOK is filled with groove, but on the surface, haunting yet beautiful sounds poke through to show its true colors. It's a different beast than Radiohead, and somehow feels more natural for Thom Yorke even if it's not quite a masterpiece. Even so, it'll leave a lasting impression that'll leave you wanting more.
Favorite Tracks: Ingenue; Judge, Jury and Executioner; Before Your Very Eyes...
Least Favorite Track: Stuck Together Pieces
Rating: 90 / 100
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