Amok, the debut full-length from Atoms For Peace, is all about musical connections. As the tracks unfold with limitless direction, an attitude of “Let’s see what happens” prevails, which sees overworked electronic beats mixed up with textural intricacies. Thom Yorke’s side project with Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, drummer Joey Waronker (R.E.M., Elliott Smith, Beck) and percussionist Mauro Refosco, the band was first pulled together to support Yorke’s 2006 solo album, The Eraser. On the new album, all the basslines of The Eraser are infused with reggae-style chord structure and minimal, melodic tones. Drawing from Fela Kuti, Amok sees the crossover between Afrobeat rhythms and dubstep, drawing out the inherent tensions between man and machine. It’s colorful, panoramic and a testament to Yorke’s command of shape and form.
The opening cut, “Before Your Very Eyes…,” is a meticulous, multi-layered track rife with looping guitar riffs and rhythmic flair. The density in Yorke’s voice as he croons, “The god of the window/Was passing you by,” is hypnotic and absorbing while the backbeats roll with volatility. On tracks “Amok” and “Stuck Together Pieces,” jam-meister Flea takes the lead, and as a result, the two songs are ultra funked-up, propulsive and completely controlled. The former rides in on a pulsating bassline interlaced with electronics, before Yorke’s reverb-soaked vocals set in, while the latter flaunts a catchy backbeat and Yorke’s fiercest vocal hook: “You don’t get away/You don’t get away so easily.”
“Dropped” blurs the boundaries between electronics and real percussion as arpeggiated chords are played atop stilted synths and a descending bassline. It revolves with digital triggers and splitting melodies. Toward the end of the track, we hear the sweeping sound of Refosco’s kitchen-sick Brazilian percussion, lending it a worldly, layered effect. “Judge, Jury And Executioner” sees organic guitar work placed over a loose, skittering drum pattern in the vein of The King Of Limbs’ “Lotus Flower.” It’s the song on the album that’s perhaps most likely to please the Radiohead faithful. Yorke’s light and melodious vocals glide above the groove as he complies, “I went for my usual walk/Just tell it like it was.”
Amok ends up sounding enormous through its mingling of analog and digital sounds. It’s intricately assembled, with more pieces to pick apart than on The Eraser, which feels a bit timid in comparison. The energy is palpable, which is largely due to embellishments by the rest of the band, as though the quintet has given structure to the improvisational.