Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Atoms for Peace - Amok


Before I get into this, where do we stand on Radiohead, and inimitable, pipe-cleaner-construct-attached-to-a-subwoofer front man Thom Yorke? As a band, they’ve managed to attract as much ire from people as they have praise, with decade old letters page bickering spilling out on to YouTube comments:

“Thank Radiohead for real music!” vs “If I wanted to bore myself to death I’d listen to paint drying.” “Thom’s dancing is transcendent…”vs “He looks like a washed up hippy on a vibro-plate…”

Music Journalism also seems to be undecided on how to treat them. Everything they release is scrutinised as a grand gesture, a bold epochal statement, a dinosaur of a band managing to function on the good will of a slavish following of fans much like the grinning bears that jostle for space in so much of their associated artwork. Is it possible to just ignore this reverence that has been thrust upon them, and digest their music in a totally neutral zone?

With Amok, Thom again appears to have simply grabbed some ideas deemed too in-organic for the group’s last album (the lithe and muscular King of Limbs) and along with a super group comprised of long time producer Nigel Godrich, Flea of RHCP fame, Mauro Refosco, and Joey Waronker, has set himself the task of pursuing another Eraser style electronic indulgence. However, instead of a delightfully dreamy halfway house between his Warp-affected DJ sets and the woven riffs of Radiohead, Yorke and co. have managed to wring out a totally different style of record.

Over the nine tracks, Thom’s trademark voice alternatively evocative, lyrical, layered and wordless, a living synth bridging digital melody, squirming percussion and tightly woven knots of guitar with ease, and the tones this man can crank out are still haunting and captivating. At times the tracks are refreshingly overt, opener Before Your Very Eyes and the later Dropped favouring more typical structures and hooks over subtler shades, with the latter being the only relative low point on the whole piece. Elsewhere, synthesisers contort themselves between high and low frequencies in the startling openings of Ingenue and Unless, where the band find themselves carving dark, elegant, continuous rhythmic spasms, treading the heady ground between true dance music and instrumental grooves. Everything on this album seems to come in pairs, and recent singles Default and Judge, Jury and Executioner provide heavyweight hooks and hand claps, backwards instrumentation and tricky guitar lines, all delivered with gleeful abandon.

Standing on its own, Stuck Together Pieces feels at times to be the apex of the group’s experiments, drum pad sketches mixing with bizarre percussion on a Fila beat reminiscent of Radiohead’s Little By Little, but with the added pleasure of Flea’s bass lines shuffling and sliding around the mix in short bursts of free form light. The two closing tracks, Reverse Running and Amok, find their thrills in plaintive chords hidden deep in the mix, the trademark Yorke progressions reduced to house-like stabs underneath brooding rhythms and lopsided beats, as his siren call repetitiously inquiring, “a penny for your thoughts…” until the final track ends on a definitive full-stop that senses refuse to accept. This must be played again, from the top, with feeling…

As easy as it is to isolate elements as being ‘Yorke-ish’ or ‘distinctly RadioheadAmok manages to function as its own individual entity. Thom’s so called ‘compromise’ between a solo project and a dance album utilises his USP, the voice he wants to leave behind for just one record, to such wonderful, textural and pleasurable effect that you’re left frequently open mouthed. Whilst the web argues over whether they are cool or relevant, and rabid fans clash with upper tier muso’s on the whys and wherefores behind the Oxford bred titans, it’s so much easier and rewarding to just sit back and let the raw depth of Amok suffocate you. It drags you down into a part of your being that doesn't care, and instead begs for another play, another chance to experience one of a thousand tiny moments that bubble up beneath the angular waves ushered in by Atoms For Peace.

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