So it’s interesting to see, reading the lyrics of this new record, how much he has changed in the 16 years between “OK Computer” and “Amok” (the fact that both titles contain the word OK could well be a coincidence or a conscious game by Yorke). The neurotic and angry singer of 1997 has given way to a more reflective artist, but not a less original one. In “Before your very eyes…” the track that opens the record, he sings: “Sooner or later / and before your very eyes / old soul on young shoulders / how you’ll look when you’re older.”
We don’t know if “Amok” is an acronym, a concentrated take on “I am OK”, the inversion of the word “Koma” or all three things at once. What we know for sure is that this release marks an important point in Yorke’s career: for the first time he’s publishing a record with a different band. Atoms for Peace in fact were born out of the release of “The Eraser”, Thom Yorke’s first solo effort. There he surrounded himself with a few friends like Flea from Red Hot Chilli Peppers, the producer and friend Nigel Godrich, drummer Joey Waronker and percussionist Mauro Refosco. The end-goal of that band was to be able to play live the tracks on “The Eraser”.
The union of these musicians proved more fruitful than initially anticipated and that spurred Yorke, between a Radiohead release and tour, to write and record more tracks. He was actually so taken by the result that he decided to freeze the project for a little while to be able to look at the end-result with a more objective eye.
Nigel and Thom worked at length on the new tracks and in the end selected just nine to appear on the release: the result is a record where the melodic and electronic soul of Yorke and Godrich coexist with the fierce spirits of Flea, Waronker and Refosco, with extraordinary results.
“Before your very eyes…” opens with a guitar riff, a rhythmic pattern consisting of drums, samples and percussions as well as Flea’s bass to push it along: the result is a melancholy track with a good rhythm and groove.
“Oh what a troubled / Silent, poor boy / A pawn into a queen / I laugh now / But later it’s not so easy”.
With “Default”, the first single from the record, Yorke seems to look at the past with fierce emotions; the keyboards played like strings are contrasted by a mix of beats and percussions giving the track a nervous feel. “Dropped” starts slow and then accelerates in the middle with the addition of a bass line and a drum machine.
“I am lost, I am weightless / With my arms by my side / I am hope, I can break this / I am rust, I am waiting / I am here, I am weightless / I am rust”.
“Unless” is one of the most emotional tracks in the record, with Yorke’s voice communicating perfectly the agony expressed in the lyrics, whilst the music is built on a keyboards crescendo that gives the song a climax typical of Radiohead’s style.
“Stuck together pieces” narrates a painful break-up, the bass duets with the guitar in a manner reminiscent of the song “Arpeggi” (from the record “In Rainbows”), using a syncopated rhythm that eventually fades out giving way to the track, “Judge, jury and executioner”, delivered with a precise and emotionally charged rhythm very similar to that found on Radiohead’s latest works.
“Amok” ends the record mixing ethereal melodies with tight percussions with an overarching dry beat, a psychedelic combination that takes shape slowly until it fades into an ending that leaves us speechless.
With Atoms For Peace Yorke demonstrates that he is much more at ease with a family of musicians that he can rely on both in the creative and in the practical phases. This is demonstrated by the remarkable quality of this release that surpasses his previous effort “The eraser” by some lengths. “The eraser” remains a good album, but not as deep or varied as this one.
The musicians have to be given credit for being able to give a new lease of life and color to the songs of an artist that never fails to set himself new objectives. We don’t if Atoms for Peace are going to release any more records, but given the results at hand we can’t help but hope they will.
"Before your very eyes..."
"Stuck together pieces"
"Judge jury and executioner"