Fresh tunes from Yorke and friends

Atoms for Peace, a star-studded rock supergroup, released an LP, Amok, on Monday. It’s not a terribly ambitious album, but it should enrapture current fans and maybe add a few more to the ranks.

Five musicians make up the group: vocalist Thom Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich of Radiohead; Flea, bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers; drummer Joey Waronker, who has played with Beck and R.E.M.; and Mauro Refosco, a Brazilian percussionist with credits on work with David Byrne and the aforementioned Peppers.

The music is very busy dance pop, a careful assemblage of small, subtle instrumental parts – like an anthill, maybe. Refosco’s percussion is complex and varied, and there are always several more layers on top of it.

Synths wash over the mix at points, smoothing out the clattering backdrop. The chords are rounded and slippery sounding.

It’s often hard to tell exactly what instrument is being played or replicated. Guitar is usually eschewed for glitchy electronic noises, fuzzy bass and synth. Yorke’s vocals hover over it all at a measured pace, usually in falsetto.

The lyrics focus on aging and mortality – after all, the band’s combined age exceeds two hundred years. The album’s opener, “Before Your Very Eyes,” is about the linearity of time, or at least our experience of it. “You don’t get away, so easily,” Yorke sings in the somber “Stuck Together Pieces.” “Care a less, I couldn’t care a less,” goes the refrain of “Unless.” Considering the dark, foreboding instruments around it, it comes off as despondent rather than carefree.

The whole album is spent on these themes; expanding on them would have added depth to the record, but the lyrics take a backseat to instrumentation and arrangement on Amok.

It’s a homogenous album without any clear standout tracks, so the album’s best moments are its simpler ones, when some of the myriad layers of sound are peeled away and the listener gets some clarity. “Dropped” is a high point in this regard: a pounding synth beat that gives way mid-song to a flood of bass and clanging percussion – an arrangement that seems almost sprightly compared to its surroundings.

Late-album tracks “Judge, Jury and Executioner” and “Reverse Running” summarize Amok’s various strengths. In both, the percussion has some shape to it, keeping the songs propulsive and inviting and giving Yorke’s vocal melodies room to meander. A thick, fuzzy bass line from Flea opens “Judge,” the first song that the group recorded together. “Reverse Running” is carried by a rare (on this album, at least) guitar lick and then a buzzing, morphing synth drone.

The record’s closest analogue is Yorke’s solo album from 2006, The Eraser. In fact, the group was originally formed in order to play that record live and takes its name from a song on it. Further tethering the music to the Radiohead brand is the Stanley Donwood-produced album art, this time a black-and-white explosion of sharp contrast, the far left end of an apocalyptic mural that extends for miles on the band’s website.

Coming after Yorke’s solo album and 2011 Radiohead record The King of Limbs, Amok is neither a departure nor a surprise. It is, however, top-notch fodder for fans who can’t get enough of the stuff.

It fits right in with work by Jamie xx, SBTRKT and Flying Lotus: the type of producers who have contributed to the King of Limbs remix singles and hosted guest features by Yorke.

Amok exists near the cutting edge of popular music today, but quite on it – pretty good for a side project by some old guys, and probably more than fans could ask for.

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Title: Fresh tunes from Yorke and friends | Author: Jack Clinch | Section: Features | Published Date: 2013-02-27 | Internal ID: 8588

Jack Clinch

Jack Clinch is a senior political science major.