Album Review: Atoms For Peace – Amok

Just to clarify for anybody who’s still unsure, the sounds Atoms For Peace lay down on Amok are nothing like Radiohead grappling with a Red Hot Chili Peppers riff.  Although the ‘supergroup’ does contain Thom Yorke and Flea as key players (alongside Nigel Godrich, and aided by percussion work from Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco), the jams which form Amok are much less loose-limbed than your average helping of slap-bass wankery.  Instead, Amok offers twitchy collages of electronic noise.  Live instrumentation has been chewed up, polished with a mechanical sheen, and snapped into place over clickety-clackety laptop beats.  It all sounds very manufactured and production-heavy, unsurprisingly so given the time that went into creating this record, and it’s certainly an interesting development when considered alongside Thom Yorke’s recent projects, from The Eraser‘s haunting apparitions to The King Of Limbs‘ enveloping ambience.

When taking stock of Amok in relation to these previous releases, many have praised the warmth and relative accessibility of this album, but personally, on a lot of the tracks here, I’m finding it difficult to really locate the heart beneath the beats.  There’s no denying the strength of the musicians in play here, and all bring their own cards to the table, but the compound that has ultimately been harvested is a difficult one to completely embrace on an emotional level.  It’s certainly an album to admire for its ambition and obtuse angles, and it never quite threatens to drown the listener completely, but Amok is a very tightly-wound creation, and its glassy intensity sometimes feels more intimidating than it does inviting.

That said, boy does it pack in some tunes, among which is first single Default, making an early bid for album high-point.  Yorke’s falsetto is pitched at its most refined, as he coos earwormy sentiments over slick, amorphous beats, before a distorted keyboard strain rises during the chorus like a slowly revolving disco ball.  It’s the closest thing the album gets to a properly danceable track, although there are plenty of other pitch-black bouncers up for grabs on here, too, from the muffled propulsion of Dropped to the slinky web of Judge, Jury And Executioner, with the latter adding a nice change in pace with its acoustic twangs.

In terms of quality, Amok is pretty consistent, although that’s possibly because there’s very little variation in sonic palette spread across much of the album.  Each song is built from a skeleton of tinny polyrhythms and beefy bass runs, bedecked with smart, silvery guitar lines, or cold splashes of synthesiser.  The upside to such a focused template is that if you fall in love straight away with the ghostly textures of skittish opener Before Your Very Eyes, it’s probable that you’ll find much of Amok to your liking.  However, if you’re not quite sold, there’s little variation in here which will convert you, aside from the occasional flash of colour in a brief keyboard hook or a particularly potent groove.

Ultimately, the sound of Amok is kind of reflected its artwork – a disconcerting, black-and-white depiction of Hollywood under apocalypse.  Accordingly, the music proffers drama and tension, but it’s rendered tightly within grey, rigid boundaries.  The textures on here are all impressively crafted, and the swirls of noise are hypnotic in their fluidity, but it is a shame that with its emotional foundry relatively untapped, Amok lacks the visceral power one might have hoped for.  I may be missing the point, of course: perhaps this album is intended to sound claustrophobic and dystopian.  But even if that is the case, it doesn’t make it any easier for me to dip into its slippery, amorphous swell.

7/10

“A penny for your thoughts, my love”

21/03/2013

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Posted on March 21, 2013, in The Music World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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