Atoms For Peace - Amok

Eraser-Head’s slight return

Amok is the much-heralded debut by Thom
Yorke’s “supergroup” with Chili Peppers
bassist Flea, but anybody expecting
a funkier Radiohead or a dressed-down
RHCP will be in for a surprise. Co-producer
and sixth ’Head Nigel Godrich has likened
the album’s assembly to the way Miles
Davis and his studio right-hand man Teo
Macero made their late 60s masterwork In
A Silent Way; he and Yorke have also
described it as an attempt to blur the lines
between organic and electronic sound.

In that respect, it’s a qualified success.
There are moments of warped magic –
haunting melodies, neat instrumental
hooks, surprising turns of key and mood –
but there are also times when you suspect
it might have been more interesting to
hear what Yorke and his collaborators
came up with in the studio before it got
eaten by ProTools.

To recap, then: in late 2009, after
belatedly deciding to tour his three-year-old
solo debut, The Eraser, Yorke put together
a new band named after a track from the
album with Flea, Godrich, Beck/REM
drummer Joey Waronker, and Brazilian
percussionist Mauro Refosco. The following
spring, after an eight-date tour of the US,
Yorke stuck around for a few more days in
LA with his new bandmates, hanging out in
Californian sunshine, playing pool, listening
to Fela Kuti, and jamming from noon till
night in a Hollywood studio.

The nine tracks on Amok were borne out
of those sessions, though since that initial
burst of activity, Yorke and Godrich have
spent the best part of two years fusing
fragments of the original Afrobeat-inspired
jams with layers of criss-crossing rhythms,
synths, and vocal mantras. In that sense,
the closest reference point is not so much
Davis’ work with Macero but Brian Eno’s
early-80s collaborations with David Byrne
and Talking Heads (a recurring influence
ever since Yorke and his Oxford pals
decided to call themselves Radiohead).

Amok opens with two of its strongest
tracks. “Look out the window/What’s passing
you by?” Yorke wonders on Before Your
Very Eyes… as skittish percussion rubs up
against a chattering guitar riff and a suitably
robust Flea bassline. The Eraser-like
Default, the album’s first single, is a pocket
epic of fluttering beats and backwardsounding
synths, while the closing title track
is another highlight: a kaleidoscopic piece
reminiscent at times of Animal Collective’s
Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Elsewhere, Unless pits horror movie
synths against stop-start rhythms as Yorke
chants the phrase “I couldn’t care less” over
and over; Dropped is a similarly otherworldly
bass-led beast; Reverse Running another
collision of meandering one-note guitar and
grumbling bass. Stuck Together Pieces is
one of the better patchwork efforts, a heady
mix of lithe Afro-dubstep beats, wheezy
synths, and strummed half-chords. By
contrast, Judge Jury & Executioner feels
more thrown-together than stuck, its jagged
two-step rhythm and mournful backing
vocals suffering by comparison to stronger
moments in the Radiohead back catalogue.
“I went for my usual walk,” Yorke sings on
the latter, but at times you wonder if he
might have taken another fork in the road.
 

3 stars 3 stars 3 stars

XL | XLLP583 (CD / LP)

Reviewed by Tom Seabrook
<< Back to Issue 412