‘Amok’ is an adventurous step for Thom YorkePublished 2:41pm Tuesday, February 26, 2013
“Amok” is a natural step and a new musical adventure for Radiohead’s frontman Thom Yorke.
Sure, Yorke is releasing his second album without Radiohead, but it’s clear Yorke is doing things his way.
“Amok” is the debut release of super-group Atoms for Peace, which features Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, session drummer Joey Waronker (who’s worked with Beck and R.E.M.), percussionist Mauro Refosco and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich.
Make no mistake about it, Atoms for Peace is a collaborative band, but Yorke is front and center holding the reins and is often the glue for this swimming cacophony.
The group initially came together to play live shows of material from Yorke’s first solo album, “The Eraser.” “Amok” is sort of a sequel (just look at how similar the album art is), but it’s something new, too.
“The Eraser” was mostly Yorke with a laptop, and the songs were often intriguing, but fell a bit hollow without a band. You couldn’t help but expect a Radiohead guitar loop or bridge to close off a song.
But on “Amok,” York and his secondary mates manage to take a bold step into electronic and experimental rock, and the bold difference between these songs and Radiohead’s “The King of Limbs” allows this album to stand on its own two feet.
“Amok” is a smorgasbord of sounds, some from a live band, some from machines, others from any array of musical do-dad.
At times, the waves of sounds are dizzying, but Yorke’s vocals steady the ship. Vocally for Yorke, it’s a deceptively laid-back performance.
On songs like “Default,” Yorke first sings in a haunting falsetto before sounding slightly laid-back on the chorus. His voice never seems to peak, but Yorke’s vocals lead the way through the intentional muddle of sounds on tracks like “Ingenue.”
Clearly electronic producer Flying Lotus was a big influence on this album, as Yorke is an open fan.
While Flying Lotus and his music place a heavy influence on computer-generated sounds, songs like “Dropped” and “Unless” prove it’s difficult to grasp what instrument or machine is responsible for the sounds.
This was somewhat intentional, as Godrich put it in an interview: “One of the things we were most excited about was ending up with a record where you weren’t quite sure where the human starts and the machine ends.”
For those who have listened to Yorke’s catalog, this is a natural step. For years he’s been moved more toward electronic, noise-based music.
After “OK Computer” dabbled briefly in this direction, Yorke and Radiohead took a bold step to blend rock and electronics on “Kid A,” which was initially shunned by many but is now commonly considered on of the best albums of the 2000s.
This hint of electronic, computer-based music has since appeared in some form on Radiohead albums.
But “Amok” reveals a new level of freedom for Yorke. I read recently that Yorke sounds reborn. Once viewed as the moody, sour frontman, Yorke seems sounds like he’s enjoying himself again.
I trace that back to Radiohead’s “Hail to the Thief” — the group’s last album on EMI. Since, Yorke and both his bands have operated without a long-term record contract, leaving the groups in charge of making the big decisions. And, that means no record executives tugging and prodding at sales. With this freedom, Yorke has slowly explored new musical territory, and “Amok” is the boldest step to date.
While “The Eraser” felt like Yorke passing the time between Radiohead releases, “Amok” feels more like a musical adventure.
People will ask the question: “Is it as good as Radiohead?” No, but at least it’s different enough to at least ease the comparisons.
Never worry Radiohead fans, the band recently said they’ll reconvene to work on a new album in September, and they apparently have two partially completed tracks.