February 25, 2013

Album Review: Atoms for Peace's AMOK


I don't discredit that Thom Yorke isn't a music genius, but it's always a concern when the icon status starts giving an artist more credit for their work than they deserve even when their ingenuity begins showing signs of slowing down. By Thom Yorke standards, "slowing down" isn't all that a bad thing, as the eclectic frontman has circled around the same satisfyably consistent pattern of psychedelically dubbed electronica with acoustified undertones for the last half decade with his solo debut The Eraser and Radiohead's grounded industry gamechanger In Rainbows, but when the band returned in 2011 on The King of Limbs, it was obvious that Yorke and company were treading familiar territory -- albeit, in a forcibly denser sense. Yorke has since gone back to evolving what The Eraser started by fashioning the album's live band into an actual supergroup under the moniker Atoms for Peace, featuring Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Radiohead sixth man and producer Nigel Godrich, former R.E.M. drummer Joey Waronker and world-beat percussionist Mauro Refosco. On their debut album AMOK, the collective deliver a brilliant display of technical prowess, yet somewhat frustratingly do they ever deviate from the masterminding frontman's ongoing fascination with trippy effects interwoven with alterna-folk.

AMOK's strengths and weaknesses are oddly interchangeable. From a production standpoint, each Atoms for Peace members' contributions over its nine tracks are sonically perfected and performed like a flawlessly-wired robot, melding into one another to the point where it's almost difficult to assess each of their respective properties or functions. Then again, ask yourself if you actually want to be reminded of a signature Red Hot Chili Peppers bassline per Flea, who sees his talents become part of AMOK's future glitch beat equation rather than its own defining style point in the moments it's subtly put to greater use ("Before Your Very Eyes," "Judge, Jury and Executioner," "AMOK.") Yorke's ethereal vocal haunt is arguably Atoms for Peace's only defining characteristic permeating more heavily over all others, but so does it in much the same way throughout his other work from the last half decade, whether it be on Radiohead or when guesting on a Flying Lotus track.

So what purpose do Atoms for Peace serve in the grand scheme of Yorke's creative marquee? For starters, his electronic vision from The Eraser now sounds completely fleshed out and alive by having some of the best talents fill in the quiet gaps he wasn't able to detail by himself several years ago. It's not that AMOK doesn't deliver any highlights, but more often than not, what stands out are the beats playing on loop (the neon electric wave in "Ingenues" or the curling signature change in "Reverse Running," for example) that appropriate AMOK as a pleasantly mellowed "headphones listen" rather than a stroke of attentive songwriting mastery. The album represents an extension of what Yorke has now officially cemented here as "his" sound regardless of bolstering it up with an impressive cast of characters to help him manufacture the experience. It's a vanity project in the most sophisticated sense, but I suppose every music genius is at least owed an outlet to simply let loose.


Atoms for Peace's AMOK will be released February 26, 2012 on XL Recordings.

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