Similar Artists: Radiohead, Thom Yorke
Genre: Experimental Techno
Ever since Kid A, Thom Yorke has been obsessed with electronic takeover in music. This guy is a true EDM aficionado, and he has been leaning in the direction of going full on techno in different ways through his career. Through his many reincarnations, what has always kept us intrigued is the fact that Thom’s music sounds little-to-nothing like the artists he states as his inspiration. During the Kid A period, his main influences were Warp Records’ flagship acts Aphex Twin and Autechre, but in all seriousness, if his goal was to sound like either of those acts I would have to say he failed. Nowadays, he hangs out with state-of-the-art producers such as Flying Lotus and Four Tet, and although Thom seems to think he is making music of a similar vein, this new release won’t remind you of those artists in the slightest.
This is an artist whose work truly exists beyond influence. Analyzing why an artist is original can drive a critic mad, but I have always felt Thom’s uniqueness is spurred by a factor outside of his wild imagination and occasional mental instability. After years of being Radiohead’s biggest fan, I have become convinced that Thom has a skewed perception of reality that causes the waves and frequencies of music to reach him on an entirely different level. Everyone hears music in a slightly tweaked fashion; but quite simply, Thom must hear music in a much different way than everyone else. This may be the most apparent when he is describing his own music, in which he seems to think is straight up pop rather than anything alternative. I attribute this skewed perception to the cause of his self-image issues in the past, as well as the reason why it can take the band 4+ years to release new material. I’ve gotten a tad bit off topic, but regardless of whatever crises have affected Thom in the past, his love affair with abstract techno has finally come full circle, and he sounds as confident in his surroundings as he ever has been.
It is truly a wonder how the members of Radiohead haven’t cracked under pressure and disbanded countless times by now. Due to the band constantly topping and reinventing themselves for 20 years, each release is marked by exceptionally high expectations. People don’t just want a new Radiohead release to be good, they want it to be their best yet. This makes it easy to understand why Thom would need to occasionally distance himself from his longtime band mates. Being overly serious in the music making process can lead to disastrous effect, so it seems healthy that Thom takes a load off by involving himself in solo/side projects every now and then. Unfortunately for him though, people seem to set the same ridiculously high expectations in whatever environment Thom is in.
Although he has joined with some friends for the making of this album, “Amok” should be seen as “The Eraser pt. 2”. The band name is borrowed from that album, but it certainly isn’t the only thing. There are some borrowed chord sequences which might prompt a passerby to believe he was listening to an Eraser remix album instead of an entirely new set of songs. Similarly, before uniting to become “Atoms for Peace”, the other 4 musicians who took their part in this album, (Joey Waronker, Flea, Mauro Refosco and the indispensible Nigel Godrich) were called forth to create live renditions of tracks from “The Eraser”. Needless to say, this album was birthed into being through the conception of full band arrangements based on “Eraser” compositions. It’s a continuation upon that style for sure, but the expansion in terms of depth and integrity are absolutely appreciated.
Although Amok isn’t a complete reinvention of style from Thom’s previous solo outing, that doesn’t mean there aren’t differences between the two albums. In some ways, Amok is the least Radiohead sounding project Thom has worked on. Gone are what one might call “Radiohead moments”. An example of one of these moments would be the last two minutes of “All I Need” or “Karma Police” where the song branches off unexpectedly and we are greeted to an entirely new musical style. Even The Eraser had moments such as this; albeit on a smaller scale. There are no major chord/tempo changes mid song to claw at you for attention, so those of you who only listen to Radiohead for these sections will not find much enjoyment here (you will probably enjoy Coldplay a whole lot more anyway).
These tracks are indebted to experimental techno as they revolve around key chords that rotate and mesh for the entirety of the song. The highlights are always in the subtleties, so the album will certainly leave a few dry on the first listen or so. Originally, I was even hesitant to call these pieces “songs” due to a meandering flatness that was permeating them, but after some time, they rise off of their surface to form into full bodied compositions. Despite me labeling this as a solo album, each member’s role is audible. While some have complained that this album fails to make use of its musician’s true talents, the music never would have worked with Flea’s slap-tastic bass lines covering the atmospherics. We are seeing a different side to these musicians, and it is what prevents Atoms for Peace from falling into common “supergroup” clichés.
Amok was recorded in a mere 3 day session; Thom and Nigel spent the remaining countless hours analyzing the material and organizing it into compact pieces. Seen as one of the best living producers, this album’s production is certainly befitting to Nigel’s name. Listening to this on a pair of good headphones is an experience not to be missed. Hearing the splices of vocal samples layered between muted bass, gorgeous keyboards and the tinkering of meticulous drum programming is awe-inspiring and calls me back time and time again. Oh yeah, and in case I didn’t mention it, Thom’s voice is excellent here as well. The King of Limbs saw him going down a more challenging, yet assured path with his vocal delivery, and here he travels down a similar trajectory. So this is a good, often great album, but those looking for the same pleasures that a Radiohead album holds will be disappointed, but like I said earlier, maybe those weren’t true fans to begin with…
1.) Before Your Very Eyes…
6.) Stuck Together Pieces
7.) Judge Jury & Executioner*
8.) Reverse Running*
* – Album Highlight