Something inside of Thom Yorke broke after “Creep.” In videos and interviews he seems gun-shy and tired, sort of the way you might imagine a more cynical Kurt Cobain would be. From OK Computer onwards, Radiohead’s music has veered away from the shiny guitar-rock of The Bends and Pablo Honey and into stranger, harder-to-categorize territory. This is at least partially because Yorke has become, judging by his music, an increasingly interior person. His contributions to Radiohead since OK Computer have served to digitize the band, to increasingly compose songs built around synthesizers and clicks and loops rather than guitars. Repetition plays an even larger role in Yorke’s work with Atoms for Peace, a band built originally to play songs from his solo sad-tronica album The Eraser.
AMOK, the new album from Atoms for Peace, is a further retreat into Yorke’s headspace. Anchored by Thom’s signature falsetto, a bevy of snappy percussion, and the basswork of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea. The focus of AMOK is the groove: odd-meters, strange vamps, and bluesy guitar lines all intersect to form a sort of gyrating tapestry that flows across the album. Longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Goodrich holds down keyboard and synth duties for AFP (with some help from Yorke no doubt), although on AMOK synthesizers take a pleasant backseat to other instrumental work. Joer Waronker and Marco Refosco collaborate on drums and percussion, respectively, and together with Flea,,. their seemingly-intuitive connection is responsible for the rhythmic fabric of the record. Refosco and Waronker shine particularly bright on “Stuck Together Pieces,” a pseudo-samba that slides along on what feels like a billion ball bearings, letting Yorke’s treble-heavy guitar in around the edges. The sleek “Dropped” works in exactly the opposite fashion: Flea and Goodrich drive a thick bassline through scattershot percussion, Yorke croons away, and
The success of AMOK, like the success of the last handful of Radiohead records, on whether or not you can buy into Yorke’s ethos. Do you find it boring or haunting? Is Yorke’s keening, mellow voice cloying or deeply sad? Are the rhythmic sleight-of-hand tricks entrancing or silly? It all depends. I thought King of Limbs was brilliant, and Eraser singles “Black Swan” and “The Eraser” are still weekly listens for me. Yorke seems to always be reaching for something at the corner of your eyes, stretching the sounds he makes to draw your attention to something new. AMOK is a great record, and you should enjoy it as such.
Atoms for Peace – “Judge, Jury and Executioner”