Finally. I have been waiting for “Amok”, the debut album from Atoms For Peace since they (Thom Yorke, Nigel Godrich, Flea, drummer Joey Waronker, and percussionist Mauro Refosco) assembled like a rock star Voltron to play material from Thom + Nigel’s “The Eraser” album from 2006. Anyway, I never saw any of those shows (unless you count watching shaky cell-phone YouTube videos), but my interest was piqued. Rumors of a studio album floated around for a while, and now here it is, in all of it’s twitchy, vibrating, crooning glory.
But first, to understand where you are, you have to understand where you’ve been. While “Amok” definitely stands (and buzzes) on it’s own, I think it’s worth hearing especially in the context of the “The Eraser” album. You see, “Amok” is like “Eraser” after a few drinks; a bit more loose, uninhibited, and ultimately more fun to be around. The sonic parallels are clear: Complex percussion arrangements, Thom’s voice ethereally weaved in and out of the music like a thread, sometimes unusual time signatures, and heavy use of that Elektron Machinedrum. This is why I loved “The Eraser”. It sounded like an album made with a computer, but the fragility and mystery of Thom’s vocals added an intrinsic human element, a contemplative ghost in the machine.
Seven years later, we have “Amok”. It’s sonically brighter, more fun, and dare I say danceable (in a Warp records sort of way). “Amok” maintains the flickering drums and great use of the stereo field. Listen to the album on headphones; hi-hats, snares, bass rumbles, saturated synths, and vocals all flit between your ears. Thom’s lyrics are equally if not more ambiguous, in a good way. Though I’ve only listened through three times over two days as of this writing, I imagine listening in different moods will shift my emotional response to the songs. They are sort of mercurial.
The main difference with this project is the additional human element. Along with Thom’s songwriting ability and Nigel’s production wizardry, we have one of the best bass player’s in the world (Flea), a great drummer (Joey), and percussionist Mauro who I didn’t know (but the percussion on this album is awesome, so it seems like he did a great job). The intersection of mechanical and human can best be heard in the drumming. It’s often hard to tell where one arm starts and another sequencer stops. Flea’s bass really livens things up, especially when compared with the intentionally programmed “The Eraser.” “Amok” feels more dynamic, more organic, and warmer than the “The Eraser’s” forlorn cold. Both great, both different.
Hopefully the band comes to NY. Tickets will go fast. (Thom + Nigel’s DJ set/”Amok” album release party at Le Poisson Rogue sold out seemingly instantly – and then went for $800 on eBay. I was pissed.) I can’t wait to hear this album live, it sounds really challenging to recreate on stage. As someone with music production aspirations, Nigel Godrich is a big inspiration to me. I especially want to see his role in a live setting.
The creation of albums, especially a project like this, is still kind of a black box in my mind. To integrate different talents and create a cohesive whole, that glue must be Nigel’s magic. (Also recently evident on his Ultraista project, of which drummer Joey Waronker is also a member). And I don’t mean to heap praise on Nigel and marginalize the contributions of others. I’m speaking purely from conjecture. What do I know? Obviously there is no “Amok” without Thom Yorke, Joey and Mauro’s percussion work is one of my favorite aspects of the project, and Flea’s bass is funky as hell! Could “Amok” have been made with a different producer? Probably. Would it have been as great? I doubt it.
Sounds like: More organic and textured “The Eraser”, similarities to “The King Of Limbs”
Favorite track: “Before Your Very Eyes…”