Originally conceived as a backing band for touring Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke’s first solo effort The Eraser, the tantalisingly named ‘??????’ started to develop into something more prolific and was renamed Atoms For Peace in 2010. Made up of Yorke, long-term Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich and Flea amongst others, the band is certainly a mixture of stellar talent. Their debut, Amok, hardly seems a showcasing balance though.
It is certainly a Thom Yorke record; not to say the others do not play their part. Opener Before Your Very Eyes is immediately established with blippy synths and a subtle bass line – Yorke’s obsession with IDM has been the chief driving force of his musical career since Kid A in 2000, collaborating with Flying Lotus and Four Tet in recent years.
Default provides a beautiful undercurrent in its unconventional beat, and as the record powers on through quiet house influences on Ingenue as well as tight chaotic build-ups, it is clear that Amok is aiming to go somewhere, but isn’t quite reaching it.
Stuck Together Pieces seems like the first track that actually involves the whole band, with Flea’s bass powering through. From here on, the band presents a more comfortable ethic with tracks like Reverse Running. A glimpse of a melodic guitar line puts it more in line with Radiohead pre-Kid A, adding more character and colour to the streamlined chaos. The closing title track continues on this, albeit employing a darker vibe and building up to a rewarding climax – yet it somehow doesn’t seem earned.
Amok is no doubt a strong compilation of music (despite being a tightly produced jam session). Yet it is a Thom Yorke album at heart, with the other members of Atoms having their (brief ) shining moments.
Yorke’s drive is in no way a bad thing on this effort. Yet Amok feels like a somewhat missed collaborative opportunity, particularly with such a proficient pool of talent.