(Image from gigwise)
This is a homecoming for me, of sorts, as I got into Radiohead (now one of my favourite bands) via The Eraser. Initially I had slung Kid A (now one of my favourite albums) through the headphones before throwing them off in frustration. It was only when I heard The Eraser that I found myself warming to Yorke’s voice and the jumbly, bloopy sounds happening all around.
But I need to get my beeps booped somehow, and with no Radiohead album in sight, what has now become a full-fledged Thom Yorke side project is rising to meet those needs. This album has its beginning in Thom’s solo electronic venture, The Eraser, and the band is comprised of musicians he used to tour that album, with Flea of RHCP fame covering the low end. Atoms for Peace (named after a track from The Eraser), however, is a different beat altogether from Yorke on his lonesome. The sound of a full roster here is evident from the get go, with each part moving and locking into place around you. The Eraser had Thom’s vocals soaring and diving against what seems like a mostly ‘flat’ backing track – the effect was that of Yorke singing on top of playback from a tape recorder (though it was effective, nonetheless, for that album). There was a homogeny there, whereas the Z-axis is employed on Amok, and each piece is easier to consider separately.
Maybe that’s why Yorke’s vocals don’t lift off quite as much here. There’s no vocal hook here as memorable as the one from The Eraser’s title track (“and it’s doin’ me in/doin’ me in/doin’ me in/doin’ me in”) and he, for the most part, keeps his voice in its lower register, where it occasionally hovers dangerously close in range to some of the other instruments in the song. There are more low moans and held notes – very wispy and ephemeral, it blows through the hard cityscapes created by the rest of the instruments, occasionally snatching a newspaper up in the draft, but mostly inconsequential. The real show is happening elsewhere.
Flea’s presence here is a welcome one, and a lot of the reason for the thickness of the tracks. He provides a smooth depth to the overall sound, moving deftly through each track with confidence (whereas Yorke’s vocals mark uncertainty). As to be expected in electronic tracks, the basslines are oft repetitive, but never boring, as there is enough variation from your standard afterthought low end track for Flea’s presence to really make itself known. Having a dedicated bassist focusing on a single aspect of a given track really makes the instrument shine.
Often times, the loops here are given a long leash, so you are able to hear them build up of wind down as they go, effects fading after one pass and the returning again after the second (“Ingenue”). One thing I would have liked have seen more of, but was glad to have what we got were the interjections of non-tonal sounds thoughout, as the buzzes of electricity (“Dropped”) or electronic egg being hurled at and sliding down the wall (“Unless”) provide some nice atmosphere or small hint of a narrative with just a simple sound. It keeps the proceedings from sounding one hundred percent organized or plan and lends a little credence to the idea of the chaos inherent in the name of the album.
Apart from the electronic handclaps, which I don’t know if I’ll eve get used to, Amok has a great variety of percussive tones and busy beats working its way through each track. The album credits both a drummer (Joey Waronker) and percussionist (Mauro Refosco), as well as Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich both credited with programming, so a majority of the aural space is dedicated to adding to, countering and enhancing the beats, with only the synthesizer, bass and occasional guitar filling in the spaces in between. The different layers and types of percussion provide a very full sound, unlike The Eraser, and because of that, Amok may be and easier move for Radiohead fans than the former.