After their release to the world, back in 2009, Atoms for Peace have been steadfast in growing their sound together, as any band would enjoy. Thom Yorke is always going to be solidified within Radiohead, but he did release an excellent solo album with The Eraser and now, with Atoms for Peace, Yorke works with immensely gifted musicians for another masterful album outside the Radiohead cannon: Amok. With Flea on bass, longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, drummer Joey Waronker and Brazilian instrumentalist Mauro Refosco, Atoms for Peace were always much more than the “????????” billing they received at Coachella all those years back. Rumored to be produced in three days, Amok is a tenaciously rich and strong album that is certainly the work of gifted musicians.
Originated around a mutual love for afrobeat music, many of the songs on Amok sound like the joyous core of Fela Kuti’s sounds. Songs like “Ingenue” play inside an electronic spectrum, where the synths and beats take control, but in the background – or foreground, depends how you hear it – is an underlying motion of control. It’s neither relentless, nor relying on other movements for support but the heart of the music is very much always in motion. Opening with “Before Your Very Eyes” it begins with this uncontrollable lull that already has you sucked in, well before Flea’s bass creeps in. With Kuti’s solemn trademarks on full display, Amok celebrates what sheer chemistry in a studio is capable of.
The gorgeous closer, the title track, basks in a light synthesizer before the bass once again, stumbles on. Every sound and layer is measured just right, all at the right levels: the blends on Amok are utterly exceptional. Even on the afrobeat stylings of “Stuck Together Pieces,” the way everything coalesces, it appears to be memorably conjoined and instead of one instrument acting as the leader, the culmination is key. Whether it’s the numbing headphones, or just blasting it loudly from the top of the roof, this is the kind of album where the collective sounds are the true star of the show.
There’s a definite amount of skill on display here as well; just the fact that these five absolutely brilliant minds would record together is a recipe for success. But Amok beyond a doubt succeeds because of the refreshing style the band has employed. The aforementioned “Before Your Very Eyes” is rooted in these deep synths that never seem to let loose and on the unforgiving “Unless,” the gloomy overtones decorate a stunning assortment of sounds. These are subtle choices that finds the band easily adaptable and ultimately, entirely comfortable in their own skin. The songs on Amok serenely flow and the album is wholly a piece that deserves to be heard in entirety – because of how Yorke’s voice continues to haunt on each listen, while the accompanying sounds and his voice fight for the limelight, underneath a rattling umbrella.
In an interview, Yorke stated the music “Was the product of getting together, getting wasted and listening to Fela Kuti,” and while Kuti’s presence is felt on everything from the percussion chants, the repetition and addition of layers, to the very essence – the core – of the music, the sounds Atoms for Peace have created on Amok are distinctively spectacular. It’s clear this is a collaboration amongst strong-minded musicians that all excel at pushing the boundaries with sublime results; it just so happens that at the very core of this album is a definite Radiohead collaboration. Yorke’s voice soars and sounds as beautiful as ever: on the opener, his lone instrument acts as the flag bearer around the shaking, stuttering sounds evolving around him. And for the most part, all of the aforementioned makes it a definitive standout as one of the finest of 2013.