Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Atoms for Peace gives Thom Yorke chance for one more encore

It's no secret that Radiohead brainchild Thom Yorke has been mesmerized with electronic music since the 2000 release of Kid A, but his efforts to refine the sound has provided one of the more intriguing storylines over the years. This time he's got some new guys around him -- the principals being Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, former R.E.M. drummer Joey Waronker, and producer Nigel Goodrich, best known for his work with Radiohead.

It's not hard to see who the dominant influence is. Amok has already drawn a smattering of comparisons with Thom Yorke's 2006 solo album The Eraser, and for good reason. The key differences are that Amok is much heavier on analog elements, features a much more spastic and diverse rhythm section, and also showcases the fact that Yorke has made many strides in production and arrangement of composition since then. Many of the synths that come in over the top are pure sex for your ears, able to dominate songs in ways they never had been before.

A great example is "Inguene," which opens with one of the album's thickest synth patterns. It sounds like something from Boards of Canada's Music Has the Right to Children, while projecting a serious sense of groove and swagger. Meanwhile, opener "Before Your Very Eyes" dazzles the ear with its pulsing synths, while introducing more and more layers as it goes on. Not to be outdone, lead single "Default" opens with an infectious rhythm, leading into one of the most blissful pure electro-pop songs on the album.

Of course, one of the key areas where Amok stands apart is in its sense of groove and swagger. Songs like "Dropped" and "Stuck Together Pieces" have prominent, well defined basslines, but "Reverse Running" is the only song that approaches the gold standard rhythm awesomeness of "Lotus Flower" from the previous Radiohead album King of Limbs. With its warm, open bass tones, oriental inspired guitar lead, and Yorke's spiraling vocals, it's an easy standout.

The title track and album closer is easily Amok's most unique song. Its ghostly and ephemeral opening sets the scene for Yorke's fleeting phantasmal images. It showcases an uncanny knack for progression with a shimmering keyboard riff coming in near the end, all structured around one of the album's best basslines.

In comparison with King of Limbs, Amok is much more straightforward and less meandering, but not as deep. In general, the meat of the album is laid on the surface of most songs. This makes it more accessible than the last couple Radiohead albums, but leaving less to discover on repeat listens. In addition, it doesn't do much to push forward the sound that Yorke and his various companions have developed via various side projects over the years, expect that he now has the best bass player behind him he's probably ever had.

Yet despite some flaws, it is still a well thought out and well composed composed electronic pop album that delivers large doses of sensuality while also being capable of conveying a downcast and detached vibe. In short, it's a great dish for anyone craving more of Yorke's patented sense of rhythm and style.

Score: 86/100

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