It would be easy to write off AMOK, the new album from Atoms For Peace, as nothing more than a Radiohead side project; or as one friend said, ‘its the new album Radiohead should have made.’
I don’t really think so. I mean…. don’t get me wrong… I loved Radiohead’s last album King of Limbs (and In Rainbows before it) but this is a different sort of listening experience. In some way AMOK is an extension of a direction begun on the non-LP/CD bonus tracks that came out with King of Limbs (“Supercollider” and “The Butcher”) but which were technically left off the album because they didn’t quite fit the album. That makes a lot of sense because they feel more like prototypes for some of the sounds on AMOK.
Atoms For Peace are a far more stripped down affair of essentially, drums, bass, keyboards with occassional guitar textures; at its root, Radiohead is still very much a densely layered guitar-textured band. The sound on AMOK is spartan and largely focused on Thom Yorke’s soft falsetto, over a bed of subtle electronic production elements, from grainy synth squelches to spartan acoustic instrumentation.
Yorke’s now-near-trademark, outside-the-beat composition style burbles and bubbles around conventional time signatures. Flea (of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame) thankfully forgoes finger popping bass lines and instead is playing a bit more lyrically, akin to Yes’ Chris Squire, finding melodic complements to the rhythms which stand out from the mix.
Then there are the songs underneath all this stuff and some good ones… Like KidA and Amnesiac before it, they grow on you if you give them the time. There are haunting melodies in there but you need to give yourself over to the chill mood. Once you do, soon you’ll be hearing the clean piano — which keeps a track like “Reverse Running” together — emerging out of the tweaky rhythmic fog. “Stuck Together In Pieces” is another one that has caught my ear early on.
Fidelity wise, the 45 RPM discs do not disappoint. They are pretty much near perfectly centered and the vinyl thick and dead quiet. It sounds really sweet when you turn up the volume a bit on tracks like album opener “Before Your Very Eyes.” And if you seek a modern recording with old time stereo separation, this is your baby. There are lots of left-right, ping-pong things going on here like I haven’t heard in years; percussion pulses jump back and forth in the speakers as if it were some sort of modern day answer to RCA’s old “Stereo Action” series from the 1950s and early ’60s.
A friend brought over his pre-ordered copy of the super deluxe edition of AMOK so I was excited to see its absolutely beautiful tri-fold, silver-foil embossed heavily stylized graphic artwork depicting an end of days scenario over LA. I was however disappointed that I’d missed the pre-order.
But… then I found out it was still available… Woo Hoo! Yay! woot! and all that…. So I put in the order (pricey given the international shipping and such) and am not disappointed. The package even comes with a CD so you don’t have to hassle with a download for your mobile listening — this is good music contemplate your existance while stuck in your daily commute traffi
I was momentarily bummed when I subsequently saw copies of it showing up in the stores here in California — I could have saved myself $10+ in shipping charges.
Ah well… it is a good purchase in the name of ART! .
And AMOK is a lovely work of art. Just don’t go into it expecting to hear a seqeul to OK Computer or even In Rainbows. If anything, this is closer to the flavor of Radiohead’s last one, the great King of Limbs. But again, it is something different.
At the end of the day, it all comes back to Thom Yorke’s voice. So if you like that, you should get this. His gift is something we all should cherish.
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who’s songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written. www.smotroff.com