It’s no secret that Thom Yorke is a fan of dance music. The influence of electronic music has been clear from earlier than most of the Bends/OK Computer tribe of Radiohead fans would care to admit and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. ‘The King Of Limbs’ was the closest the band has come to releasing a dance record, yet as much as Atoms For Peace may share similar ambitions, ‘Amok’ should be filed next to Yorke’s ‘The Eraser’. It was of course that album which brought the motley crew of talented musicians together, and though they began life as a megaphone from which to amplify the voice of Yorke, this effort sees a reversal of sorts, with Yorke and Nigel Godrich charged with taming a wild animal fuelled on free form jamming sessions and late night overdoses of Fela Kuti, Four Tet and Squarepusher. Yet while ‘The Eraser’ was dark and full of apocalyptic harbingers, with ‘Amok’ we find Yorke at perhaps his warmest and most optimistic. To say the album paints a happy and carefree world would be going to far, but there is an ease and tranquility to the whole affair – a sense that all the gloom of his previous solo work is only temporary and that on the horizon there is hope.
Opening track Before Your Very Eyes… begins with a catchy afrobeat rhythm that weaves its way around Yorke’s drawn out vocals. It’s a song that finds its origins in ‘The Eraser’, yet evolves to something closer to the work of Aphex Twin, as guitar is replaced with fuzzy synths that follow Yorke’s glorious falsetto to climax. Single Default is a twitchy little gesture, which finds Godrich working overtime, building layer upon layer of effects into a catchy dance track.
The next trio represent a sort of mid-album drag. While all three contain moments of charm and undoubted technical prowess, everything is too random, too busy. Ingenue layers schizophrenic percussion over a tiresome hook while Unless manages to feel stagnant despite the abundance of spliced vocals and sound effects. Dropped is the far more focused of the three – anchored by a simple building electronic beat, the bass and drums given license to freewheel through the various breaks, creating a rather eerie and emotional wall of sound. It feels more like the work of man than machine, and the album continues in this vein into its latter half. This is when Yorke and Godrich take a step back from the laptop, allowing it to augment rather than direct the music, and it is where ‘Amok’ really sparkles. Stuck Together Pieces and current single, Judge, Jury, and Executioner, are both playful and deeply layered funk exercises, while Yorke’s stream of conscious lyrics are sung with heartfelt aplomb. Reverse Running borrows heavily from Yorke’s earlier effort, Harrowdown Hill, tempered by creeping synth flourishes. Album closer, Amok, builds to an ethereal fuzzy plateau – a real high point in the frontman’s songwriting career.
Those expecting Flea to slap and stamp his mark all over this record will be disappointed however. Even on Stuck Together Pieces with his funky bassline front and centre, it is Yorke’s multi-layered vocals that steal the show. It is when Yorke shies away from the limelight, washed out by the rumble of sound effects and drums that ‘Amok’ is at its weakest. Saying that, to suggest that Yorke is the Henry Higgins to a group of Eliza Doolitles would be nonsense. If nothing else, Amok is an exercise in compromise, with each element working to try and compliment the others, rather than the typical one-upmanship that stains the releases of other so-called ‘supergroups’. It’s not an album without flaws, but when everything comes together it really blossoms and we’re treated to some delicate and beautiful moments.