Review: Atoms For Peace – ‘Amok’

As good as you imagined, an interpretive soundtrack to 21st century minimalism with heavy replay power.

Johnny Firecloudby Johnny Firecloud

There's still a hot market for Thom Yorke's perpetually melancholy brand of somewhat danceable glitch-jitter, as evidenced by the hysteria surrounding the debut-album release of the Radiohead frontman's side project Atoms For Peace. Thankfully for us all, the collaborative collection – orchestrated by Yorke, Nigel Godrich, drummer Joey Waronker, percussionist Mauro Refosco and legendary Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist Flea – is a gorgeous celebration of counterintuitive beat patterns, subtle organics and digital manipulation.

Reportedly recorded over three days in the studio and then pieced together by Yorke and Godrich, Amok has nothing to offer the guitar-loving analog disciples of the Church of Grohl & White – while not entirely free of guitar, it is a laptop album through and through, a collection of digitized schizophrenic beat designs one might listen to while preparing to impersonate someone with advanced Parkinson's on the dancefloor. 

The delight is in the details, however, and headphones are essential for the full appreciation of Refosco's percussion work, with countless beat treats trickled into the menacing apathy vortex of "Unless". "Judge, Jury and Executioner" builds on ghostly vocal backdrops, sharp handclaps and minimal click-hits, while the drip-beats and wet percussion of "Ingenue" bring an alley shine to the Yorke's ethereal falsetto and Flea's heartbeat bass. 

The deep purple thread of the RHCP bassman's trademark low-end funk is absent, replaced by a new character approach that serves a subtle supplement to the atmosphere rather than a head-bobbing strut. The buoyant anchoring riff in the hypnotically gorgeous "Stuck Together Pieces" is as prominent as he gets, framing Yorke's overlapping melodies in what builds to a dangerously Radiohead-esque track.

Amok is free of the simmering anger that plagued Yorke's solo offering The Eraser, with Thom's pensive pendulum guiding the aesthetic of the instrumentation into various moods and meanderings. If Yorke had his way, the album would be a far more dancey collection – an enticing thought indeed. But with "Default"'s reliable structure and memorable chorus being the only direct contender for radio, influences ranging from Four Tet to Fela Kuti to Caribou and back instead build a varied and complex but character-reliable collection of beat-groove goodness. It's as good as you imagined it would be, an interpretive soundtrack to 21st century minimalism with heavy replay power.

Review: Atoms For Peace – ‘Amok’