"Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait" -Longfellow

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Review: Atoms for Peace "AMOK"

Released February 26, 2013 on XL Recordings

When I heard that Thom Yorke had recruited Flea (along with Nigel Godrich, Joey WaronkerMauro Refosco) to be a part of the live Eraser band and that new songs were in the works under the name Atoms for Peace, I was curious but skeptical — is this Thom's moment of irrelevancy? Then I heard those Echoplex recordings of the songs that had comprised one of my favorite albums of 2006... And I realized that, far from being a blunder into the realm of cliche, this was a way for Yorke to create in the vein of The Eraser — while building in some rhythmic dynamics and fullness of execution, the lack of which made The Eraser feel a little thin to some. These years later, we have Amok to consider.

Glitchy, dancey, and atmospherically dark 'meaning'-pop — just like it's younger sibling The EraserAmok feels like we've moved from hunting ghosts in an end of the world hotel room to hunting ghosts in a bombed out mansion under a strobing moon. With six songs of five minutes or more, in a nine track album, this album is both more spacious and more populous than Yorke's first non-Radiohead work. Lyrically, we get what we might expect here: nebulous meditations on loss and alienation, cryptic musings on life as a dying machine in a contentedly doomed world. Yorke is preternaturally obsessed with decrepitude, waste, paranoia, conspiracy, disillusionment, war, futurism, human feeling in a cold environment, and loss of identity... In fact, I can't think of a single piece of music that he has created or contributed to which lacks his default awed (and odd) moroseness, whether in musical or literary tone (or both). 

Amok starts at a rainy run with "Before Your Very Eyes," which buries us in falling treble and heartbeat bass while Yorke's naked and wiry voice keeps hauntingly insisting on the refrain "Sooner or later, before your very eyes." The album's lead single "Default" is a lurching and syncopated affair that, as seems to be a theme with Atoms for Peace, sweats and laments and pokes fun at itself all at once. "Ingenue" delivers chills via a creaking alarm of a lead melodic phrase that drifts in and out like a memory of some tragedy still smoldering. Inaudibly moaning vocals, thick but fairly staid bass passages, and  — as on the rest of the album — skittish percussion complete "Ingenue," which is my favorite track on Amok. The album's back end is more sultry and more ethereal in tone and movement, with the high point being the dilapidated and disillusioned "Judge, Jury, and Executioner." From the initial deep breath that momentarily precedes the first track to the nostalgically innocent and unsure piano notes that end the final track, Amok is about as searchingly playful a look at general demise as one could ever hope to glean. Yorke seems to become younger as he deals more directly with his own vulnerability and the strange ways in which his own myth can undercut even his most serious proclamations, warnings, and complaints. 

The collaborative element that separates this record from The Eraser has served to release Yorke from the burden of the idea of 'the solo project' and given him the freedom to, paradoxically, be far more himself. If you think that these tracks could fit just fine within the scope of the Radiohead catalogue you are probably right... But that just goes to show to what great extent that is his (and perhaps also Godrich's) band. So basically... let's let him do whatever he wants and just hope he keeps moving fast enough to outrun his own time and the demons he seems to see everywhere.

Check out THESE awesome videos of the group live back in 2010 at Fuji Fest. I feel like they really exemplify what Yorke wants this project to be for him and for us.

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