Thom Yorke wanted to bridge the gap between where the machine ended and the human began. Having released his debut solo effort The Eraser, an electronic and rhythmically seductive diversion from his other band you might have heard of, he needed to surround himself with a band to recreate his cyborg music in a live setting. That there are enough entrancing rich tones in his music to adequately blur the distinction between machine and man is a signature characteristic of longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Goodrich’s involvement in the supergroup, as a bandmate and secondhand bandleader. Enticing the RHCP’s savant bassist Flea and two percussionists (Joey Waronker from R.E.M. and Brazillian drummer Mauro Refosco) Yorke found himself surrounded by a gang that could bring his ice cold vocal delivery to the forefront of sounds at once familiar for Radiohead fans and yet at times very distinct from Radiohead material.
The newest release by the supergroup, Amok, immediately settles in as a trance album with Yorke’s sonorous tenor doing exactly what it does best: building momentum up with articulate and moody vocals arriving at reverb laden falsetto wails and whimpers that project a sense of inevitability to his music and his message. This sound has worked for Yorke as a solo artist and with Radiohead before, but there was a certain level of disappointment with the way this record continues on with the same pace it began with as you listen further. Aside from the tracks with live drumming and a couple tracks with more human sounding bass playing, the album sounds essentially made on a computer. It seems to be the same song over and over again, but one knows this isn’t the case because the instrumentation can vary widely throughout the album. This establishes, with impunity, Atoms for Peace as Yorke’s band to manifest his solo material as the alpha male. Very little on this album feels like it was created by a band coming to conclusions as a unified cohort, it lacks that sense of spontaneity and discovery. Perhaps this should be unsurprising, given Atoms for Peace’s beginnings and the fact that Radiohead has been busy touring internationally in support of TKOL. But it’s difficult to shake that this isn’t just The Eraser 2 even if the music sounds a bit more fleshed out. But frankly, the similarities to Yorke’s “solo electronic work” notwithstanding, dramatic and moody musical creations capture the listener from start to finish regardless of whether it’s a computer or a flesh and blood musician creating the sounds. This has been proven time and again by the masterpiece Kid A. Or maybe by some kitschy youtube video with a robotic band playing bluegrass or something, not that those are any good… *sheepishly looks away*
This record sounds like what dance music should be to Radiohead fans. It’s dense, has a propulsive beat, and is exquisitely textured. It is sophisticated and jarring aurally but never plays tricks with the beat which makes it easy to groove with. The production is phenomenal and samples from this record would be arresting when utilized in a late night underground club. In a DJ setting, this album could kill. If anyone is questioning this assertion, kindly indulge in the fresh music video for “Ingenue” which features none other than the magnificently eccentric dancing style of Yorke himself. The meditative sentiment that flourishes in this album gives a great sense of predictability and a feeling of perpetual motion, certainly characteristics that work great in the electronica and dance realm. Yet, in a live band performance one has to wonder if it would sound the same or have a bit looser, more organic, and likely a more dramatic effect on the listener. I think the ultimate desire of most Yorke fans would be that there is that distinction in the live setting, he’s got Flea on bass for Heaven’s sake. For an album titled Amok, it’d be refreshing to have this rather tightly controlled album played instead with a bit of slack and a little wiggle room for the elements to bounce off one another. One can imagine the band’s constituents feeling one another out rhythmically on stage, bringing a greater appreciation of relief when the break hits and allows the release of the pent up tension present in every freaking track on this record.
This album continues to document Yorke’s excellent melody work both in vocals and in top-down composition. His arranging skills have definitely improved. His ear for disparate staccato tones that sound great together is top notch. However, ultimately this album seems to be stagnant in the songwriting department. Where Radiohead spent a golden decade of releasing groundbreaking work in each album after album, it would appear that Yorke is settling in to a conserved writing style that he’s dressing up with different sounds and new bandmates…. at least I think new bandmates were involved.
It seems like the most consistent patterned response about any Radiohead release is this: First listen: “Ah, what are they doing? This isn’t nearly as good as what they were doing with [previous album]… I’m gonna complain.” …Fifth listen: “Ooooooooooooh. Oooooh. Yep. Radiohead. This album kills.” Could it be that this album will grow on its listeners as well? This record is so dense that perhaps to have a more ambitious writing style in hand would have lead to a hopeless mess; would have lead it to play… amok? Let’s see how this album grows on the hoards of fans listening to it in their nubile stage this week and then as seasoned listeners in another week or two. Let the meditative passages wash over the listener with less preconceived notions and it just might be that the record starts to build momentum, the same momentum Yorke has from the first measure.
Written by Case Newsom
OurVinyl | Contributor
[To purchase this album on iTunes just click here]