Atoms For Peace are one super supergroup. It consists of Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Radiohead’s producer Nigel Godrich, drummer for Beck and R.E.M. Joey Waronker, and Brazillian percussionist Mauro Refosco. Despite touring together since 2009, the band only released their debut album, Amok, on February 18th of this year.
A recording of the band’s work means that fans are finally able to appreciate the intricacies of their style, and one can hear the distinctive quality that each band member brings. Amok, in true Yorke style, is a tasteful combination of electronica and experimental rock. Flea’s rolling and catchy bass lines work perfectly with Waronker’s steady but involved drumming, and Refosco’s tricky percussion is the cherry on top. The first track, Before Your Very Eyes, is a fast-paced whirl of percussion, synths, bass and guitar, with Yorke wailing ethereally over the top of it all. The combination of Yorke’s voice and the steady bass line makes one feel like the band have dragged you underwater. The second track and first single, Default, has more of a distinct melodic line almost reminiscent of a 90s video game theme song. Yorke’s signature singing style is just as beautiful and surreal as ever as he makes heavy use of reverb, the percussion a throwback to Radiohead’s 2007 album In Rainbows. Ingenue is a slower track, the sound of dripping water providing percussion and continuing the underwater feel to the album. The song, while complex, feels a little repetitive at times. If Ingenue is repetitive, however, the following track, Dropped, is anything but. One of the highlights of the album, it showcases the band’s dynamic range — Flea’s bass lines are engaging and the percussion is varied and intricate. The structure and pace of the song provides a needed break from the slightly repetitive styles of the previous three tracks. The introduction of horns in Unless is a brilliant idea — if only they weren’t barely audible. The song’s excellent percussive qualities redeem it, but only just. Stuck Together Pieces is skillfully guided by Flea — the memorable bass line and driving drums are just what the album needs. It’s less experimental than the rest of the album, but that in no way detracts from the song at all. These are musicians who could make anything sound phenomenal. Judge Jury and Executioner, the second single from the album (and alternate name for Radiohead’s 2003 song, Myxomatosis) is the perfect combination of Flea’s absorbing bass and Yorke’s choral vocals. Reverse Running and titular track Amok are solid closers. They’re both similar in style to the first half of the album, but Amok introduces some beautiful piano lines that make you wish the instrument wasn’t utilised sooner.
All in all, Amok feels like a showcase of the band’s incredibly rich and dynamic technical skills as opposed to a testament to their ability to write good songs. Whilst these skills are outstanding, it’s just not enough to lift the album to the five-star masterpiece it should’ve been.
Atoms For Peace is available now via XL Records
– Review by Sarah Fernandes