Atoms For Peace “AMOK”

I didn’t understand what other critics were hearing when they stated Atoms for Peace’s AMOK was such a musical “departure” for Thom Yorke.  This record felt like Radiohead and Yorke during my first listening session with a compressed download of the LP!  As soon as I was groovin’ to “Default” (Track #2) I could feel the vibe of  Yorke’s amazing solo album The Eraser.  The choppy, dubby bass kicks and wavering synth lines encircling Yorke’s vocals, it definitely felt like a familiar sonic trip for Yorke.  I learned after listening to the album that these were obvious connections, as this group of musicians toured in support of Yorke’sEraser album prior to making AMOK.  Reportedly it’s why they came together for the LP.

I think Atoms for Peace shows there are no coincidences.  These guys were born to play together. I wasn’t surprised at all when I read they toured in support ofEraser.  This felt like a continuation of that recordthe energy, the sway; both were very familiar.  However, the subtleties of the music that carve the originality into AMOK, that truly sets it apart from other Radiohead music did not reveal themselves to me until I experienced this record on wax.  Great analog will do that for you.  We are, after all, analog-beings.  Whether you believe it or not; your brain knows the difference between 1′s and 0′s (digital) and continuous analog waveforms.  We communicate in analog! Hearing AMOK through the late-night glow of tubes in my system also reminded me of why I still enjoy vinyl so much.  It’s not just the superior sonics, it’s the textural experience of interacting with the physical media.  Everything about it beats the shit out of digital downloads.

I had AMOK on CD first, so I could hear some new grooves in the bass guitar, but that was obvious with Flea on bass and Nigel Godrich on keyboards (Radiohead’s producer, as well as Yorke’s solo work).  Something was going to change compositionally with this group .  Listening to the vinyl, it was immediately apparent that Yorke’s magnificent sonic signature had been greatly enhanced.  The sound is still deep yet dirtier, a little shiftier, and, just downright funkier.  All that courtesy of Flea’s handy-work on his bass guitar.  There’s sublime chemistry between Yorke, Flea and Godrich captured here.   AMOK is a sonic sleigh-ride through their musical bond.  That may sound a little gooey, but trust me: their music is far from it.  It’s interesting, engaging and fun.

The trip glides through Middle Eastern-style percussion and acid stabs on “Unless” to the drum-n-bassy get-down of “Reverse Running” into the atmospheric broken beats of “Judge Jury and Executioner”.  This is one of those albums where, as I listened closely, I got the overwhelming sensation that all players were at the ascent of their craft; their peak performances.  They also seemed to be challenging each other musically.  I could feel the almost-magnetic flow between the notes as their instruments weaved in and out of each other.  There’s magic happening here. This record always eventually gives me a case of the head-bobs no matter where I’m listening: Trader Joe’s (our favorite US grocery store chain) or the airport.  Speaking of the airport (LAX unfortunately): I was listening to this album in my car while waiting for a friend to arrive and I noticed how beautifully the music complimented my view of the wildly modern space-ship-looking Encounter restaurant in the middle of LAX.  I think the place has been in numerous movies.  Anyway, as I looked around at incoming and outgoing flights as well as the rest of LAX – not at all impressive because of the pain-in-the-ass construction going on, I was still taken with the overall visual compliment while listening to AMOK.  When I dropped the needle on the vinyl at home that memory came back as sharp as last nights dream.  No listening sessions following the trip to the airport using the CD have grabbed me the way the vinyl does.

This record goes for the gut, and it’s got a firm grip on mine.  Now, admittedly, like a close friend of mine who’s also a big Thom Yorke fan, I didn’t really love this record when I first got it.  I think my expectations were unrealistic.  I mean, Thom Yorke, Flea, and Nigel Godrich?  Are you kidding me?  Could anyone blame me for having such high hopes for this musical team?  I don’t think so.The great thing is; they delivered in spades!  AMOK  by Atoms for Peace is in my top five records for 2013.  If this sounds like something that grabs you try to find the 180 gram limited edition double LP.  I’m rockin’ it right now!


Michael Mercer is a veteran reviewer of music and audio components. He got his start working for The Absolute Sound as a teenager and then made his way over to Atlantic Records, working with the legendary producer Arif Mardin. Considered one of the leading "crusaders for personal audio", Mercer can be found writing for many audio publications on the Internet.

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