It’s easy to wonder if the recent meteor blast over Russia was secretly part of Atoms for Peace’s press kit: the artwork for their debut album, AMOK, depicts similarly immense fireballs hurtling towards jagged terrain. Where a biting chill swept through the group’s singer Thom Yorke’s solo debut, The Eraser, the warmer atmosphere of his songwriting on AMOK is much more lava-like—viscous
While The Eraser is the product of Yorke and producer extraordinaire Nigel Godrich collaborating over laptops and studio gizmos, AMOK was created by five musical minds who value live performance (namely Yorke, Godrich, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and percussionists whose touring credits include R.E.M. and David Byrne). Playing live is in their genetic coding—after all, Atoms for Peace first came together in order to take The Eraser out on tour. Though the band needed to strengthen the rhythmic backbone of The Eraser’s nine songs for the live setting, most songs on AMOK rush out of the gates with commanding grooves. The beats are undeniably thrilling; one can easily imagine Yorke bopping his ponytail to the bass-bumping shaker samba of “Stuck Together Pieces” or the manic hi-hat breakdown in “Unless.” At the same time, the record also demonstrates the band’s mastery of what can only be done in a studio: “Judge Jury and Executioner,” which made the rounds on the group’s 2010 set lists as a full-band guitar number, has here transformed into a haunting, ethereal track full of negative space. In this sense, the album’s sonic layers envelop and ensnare when heard through headphones, but it is not difficult to imagine tracks like “Default” evolving into concert hall behemoths. Listening to AMOK can be an intimate experience or a dance blowout, a schism whose resolution is entirely dependent on the listener’s mood.
The heart of the record is its concluding title track. Over a sweeping crescendo of airy electro-arpeggios and piano chords, we hear Yorke’s falsetto cut through the chaos: “I’m sending out choirs of angels / Tying round pieces of string / To run amok.” AMOK is undoubtedly marked by Yorke’s distinctive musical fingerprint, but the album flows with a cohesion that only additional personnel could provide. Literal running amok may be too much to expect after Yorke’s ghostly closing call to arms, but the previous 45 minutes would certainly justify such a response.