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Atoms For Peace
AMOK Matthew Foster , February 19th, 2013 08:16

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A super-group of millionaires. Side-project of the singer of a band who recently played the O2 for 70 quid a head. Flea. Topless, topless Flea. There are indeed several reasons why the prospect of AMOK might fill you with dread, but it probably shouldn't. Thom Yorke does sing the word “baby”, and there is some slap bass, but nobody drives a flaming motorcycle into a giant inflatable naked woman, and for that we should all be thankful.

In fact, AMOK, playful and hyper-detailed, is a subtle beast, eschewing high-impact and bold gestures in favour of the carefully woven patchwork approach of The King Of Limbs. It also gobbles up influences, most notably Caribou's Swim and Four Tet's There Is Love In You  and spits out a record which, like them, marries  loose, live samples with calculated, laptop arrangements.

That approach results in some welcome sunny spots to AMOK that might pull in a few Radiohead skeptics who've always found Yorke's day-job a little starchy. 'Stuck Together Pieces', for example, dabbles in Fela grooves, while the stunning standout 'Reverse Running', lets Yorke's vocals soar over a funk bass and 2-step percussive clatter. Surprisingly for a record whose cover depicts everyone dying in a climate-change induced apocalypse, there's much sultry fun to be found here.

Unlike the pretty but comparatively Spartan Yorke solo record The Eraser, vAMOK rarely leaves you wishing for a bit more meat on the bones. The haunting title track takes the slow-burn spirit of 'Cymbal Rush' and fleshes it out into something more substantial, chucking in a couple of nods to Ninja Tune first lady Emika while it's at it. 'Ingenue', opening with flailing pads that soon get locked down by chopped-up Joey Waronker percussion and – why not – the sound of a dripping tap, is chaotically busy, and all the more enjoyable for it.

AMOK's less interesting moments mostly sit on its first side. Even if it's hard to argue with the swooning opener 'Before Your Very Eyes', first single 'Default' is Yorke-by-numbers and 'Dropped' in particular drags, held down as it is by a drawn-out vocal line, and quickly grating, clipped synth intro. Pairing it with 'Unless', which is better, but still overlong, makes for a mid-record sag that could encourage a fair few to tune out.

Which would be a shame, because AMOK, free from the weight of expectation attached to a new Radiohead record, boasts a relaxed and really rather stunning second side which does more than enough to justify AFP's existence. As ever with Yorke's work, a strong desire not to get stuck in a rut results in a few experiments that don't quite pay off, but largely, AMOK is a slender, admirable record well worth investigating.

Tim B
Feb 19, 2013 2:54pm

"Flea. Topless, topless Flea."

Very good.

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Mark
Feb 19, 2013 2:58pm

Great review. the album, whoa! What a a great - sometimes chill - ride! To me, Before Your Very Eyes, Reverse Running, Unless and Amok (title track) can easily be put among the best things Yorke ever made (Radiohead included).

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Feb 19, 2013 4:02pm

Pleasantly surprised too, great album !!! \o/

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Cameron from Ferris Bueller
Feb 19, 2013 5:49pm

Flea is awful, yes, but you can hardly hear him here thanks to all the cutting and dicing. Unfortunately you CAN hear Thom Yorke's numbing voice, a thick syrup coating everything. He likes beats and dance music but he has the worst possible voice for it. He never sounds like he knows what to do against all the percussive elements swirling around him. He should take a note from Four Tet and mute his vocals. Of course though, this is a bloated bank account rock star used to performing in hockey arenas so the idea of making music that would be more suited to a small club must be unappealing to him and his business advisors.

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Kes
Feb 19, 2013 6:26pm

In reply to Cameron from Ferris Bueller:

Yes of course, because having money immediately robs Thom of all his talent. Blah blah blah.

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Cameron
Feb 19, 2013 6:38pm

In reply to Kes:

No, of course not. But it does seem to currently rob him of the possibility of thinking outside of releasing music as a colossus roaming the earth. Some music, especially the music he seems to like in his DJ sets and interviews, is done better on a smaller scale than he seems willing to work on. As if by not singing and making it sound like "Thom Yorke" or "Radiohead" would reduce his chances of getting the largest possible audience to hear it.

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Feb 19, 2013 6:59pm

In reply to Cameron from Ferris Bueller:

I really don't agree... Thom has a great voice by anyone's standards,which is undeniably flexible for a male voice. If you're fed up with it that's one thing, but it is used as any other instrument (like all vocals! there is a particular emotional weight to vocals of course but it is just another instrument).
But mainly : just because there are a few cuts and blips means it's electronic music and there shouldn't be vocals? This is a great example of hybrid music so your argument seems a bit simplistic...

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emma
Feb 19, 2013 7:02pm

I don't have any problems with Flea, he can play bass guys, come on !!
I must also confess that I am quite partial to a bit of (bass) slapping... SORRY !

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Cameron
Feb 19, 2013 7:52pm

In reply to :

It's not that there are vocals it's that they're his vocals. His voice does not work well against percussive elements. His voice on the pretty Radiohead ballady stuff is great, of course. It just seems like he's carrying a torch for bedroom producers, guys that have nothing to lose making great new fresh music that takes risks, but has failed to realize that the minute you take away the supposed restrictions of that scenario (and then add one of the most recognizable voices in rock over it and pay publicists for a six month campaign) that the music buckles under the weight of expectation and loses the power to charm. Thom should take his energy and make an instrumental album for himself and be content to only have a few hundred thousand people hear it. But he's not Burial or Flying Lotus - he's a major rock star wishing he had the guts to have the same sonic freedom as them. This tension makes for an uncomfortable listen as a fan. Still, he's having better luck then when Bowie was chasing after every flavor of the month during the '90's.

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Feb 19, 2013 8:23pm

In reply to Cameron:

I see what you're saying, but really it is your own (and many other's I'm sure) use of boxes... And listening to him with all this baggage.
I obviously can't argue there can be perfect neutrality but you can try and leave a bit behind when you listen to a new album, by anyone.
I think his mixes are one thing, this is another. I think people think he has rejected "rock"/playing in a band because he says he is a bit fed up with radiohead sometimes, but I imagine it has more to do with the whole "playing stadiums" (which I can't imagine is that nice + all the expectations...) thing than with the actual music/"playing intruments" dynamics.
And you can say you like people & include them in your dj sets without necessarily aiming for the exact same sound... And sorry we are so at odds but I think he is really "rhythmically clever" :)

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Feb 19, 2013 10:20pm

In reply to Cameron:

Thom Yorke is a singer, first and foremost. He likes to sing, he likes to write songs with singing (in fact, he said it isn't a song til there's singing), and he likes electronic music. So he made another electronic record on which he sings. He does exactly what he wants, which is what any decent artist does. You're free not to like it, but to pin him down with your baggage is absurd. As for having a six month publicity campaign, I see no problem with that. He wants people to hear his music, which is understandable since the last two Radiohead albums came out with no promotion at all, and the Eraser just plopped down out of nowhere too.

Also, your constant harping on his wealth is idiotic.

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Thomas J
Feb 19, 2013 10:31pm

I swear you guys, you've got being wrong down to an artform. 'Dropped' as a low point? It's by far the best track!

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Lo
Feb 20, 2013 12:01pm

Busemann's biplane sandwich without the bread.

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Feb 20, 2013 9:21pm

In reply to :

No publicity for the last two Radiohead albums? You must be joking. Or not live in America. The machine is relentless whenever they do anything. Even Eraser was (and still is) pushed pushed pushed. Of course they like making money, that's why Radiohead hasn't broken up. It's a corporation now with staff, families, hundreds of people dependent on income from product and concerts. Artistic decisions are increasingly getting lower on their list of compelling reasons to make music. Don't be so naive. At this point in their over 20 year career they're the same as the Stones in 1987. And it'll never end.

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Jude
Feb 21, 2013 3:07am

I love Thom Yorke/Radiohead, When most critics were dismissing THE ERASER, I thought it was a masterpiece, and better than IN RAINBOWS. Having said all that, I'm not hearing this album at all so far. I must've read at least 10 online reviews, and all of them are praising AMOK. For me, this just doesn't have the hooks nor the immediacy of ERASER. It's his weakest effort, and a big disappointment, particularly since I'm fond of Thom's electronic work and never wanted to see a return to guitar-based music. Who knows, maybe I'll change my mind with furthering listening. I certainly hope so...

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JB
Feb 21, 2013 1:09pm

In reply to :

As you've completely ignored AMOK in your comment, I feel I must retort. There are plenty bands for who make music for money and are no longer interested in making an artistic impression but Radiohead don't fall into this category. I wonder if you've listened to their last album. If they were in it for the money they could easily churn out a watered down version of The Bends or OK Computer Lite over and over again but they have made a conscious decision not to do so. That's not to say they're not commercially savvy, I'm sure they are, but the same as the Stones in 1987? Do me a favour.

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Jude
Feb 21, 2013 1:37pm

In reply to :

You're taking the piss. Radiohead could've tried to replicate "Creep" over and over again. Instead, they made OK COMPUTER and KID A. Bold moves that most bands don't have the courage to try. They're not U2, endlessly pursuing the newest smash hit. (I love U2, and they've been courageous as well. However, I believe they *did* succumb to the kind of billionaire's decline that you're talking about. Not convinced it applies to Radiohead though.)

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Feb 21, 2013 4:47pm

In reply to Jude:

Well said JB & Jude !

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stam
Feb 21, 2013 5:49pm

They couldn't and wouldn't want to do the bends or straight rock again, their reputation is on the line. they are that rock corporation that sells the "difficult, artsy" mainstream rocknroll. They put themselves in that position for wanting to be rockstars + artistes. these days they're delivering the rockstar part. the art though, it just sounds exhausted. sure it's very well produced, has all the studio trickery money can afford, but it sounds empty. they're just no longer the hungry, adventurous band they were in the late 90s-early2000s.

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Tom
Feb 22, 2013 9:21am

In reply to :

You're right, there's loads of brilliant electronic music featuring vocals, but I do think Cameron's maybe on to something here. To quote Alexis Petridis' Guardian review:

"In a recent interview, Godrich made a passing remark about Yorke really wanting to make a straightforward dance record but feeling that, "I have to sing on it or no one's going to fucking care". It was meant as a joke, but occasionally during Amok you wonder not only if there's a grain of truth in it, but whether Yorke might not have been better off acting on the impulse."

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Mark
Feb 22, 2013 5:41pm

In reply to Tom:

Petridis is an idiot (stuck on his hipster high horse), who did a review based on his preconceptions and the "concept" of a super group and bad read of quotes from interviews he didn't even had the dignity of reading in full! In that interview - where he says he had to sing, he also says he can't think about "good tunes without vocals", as he is a singer, he likes to do it.

In Amok, aside Reverse Running/Default, his voice is used as another instrument. Yorke himself already said he likes to flex his voice to it's limit, until is barely recognizable. His voice floats over some tracks, as in BYVE, Unless, Ingenue and Amok. And he sings very differently from his usual style in Stuck Together Pieces. He isn't the type who wants his vocals to be the main draw in every song - he is not an over the top vocalist - and is very successful in doing it on AMOK.

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Sarahhh
Feb 22, 2013 6:32pm

Can I get a momment to laugh at these bathroom singers criticizing Thom Yorke's voice? Please? Because... man... I dare anyone to wail like a whale in Before Your Very Eyes and Unless, go all Justin Timberlakyan in Reverse Running, rock in JJ&E and go jazzy around in Stuck Together Pieces, the whole time sustaining amazing notes and maintining an inimitable style, the way he does!

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FranzBiberkopf
Feb 24, 2013 5:00pm

I generally agree with what's been said in most Amok reviews and comments, and although I casually enjoy listening it and have always found Yorke's and Radiohead's work compelling, there's an emptiness in this record that leaves me unaffected. The production's naturally great, although a bit cliché after a while (mostly 'cause we're used to Godrich's tricks, and the overall sound design and rhythm patterns are nothing extreme here), and the vibe is pleasant, but it seems that the whole melodrama at the heart of Yorke's music has been evacuated and replaced by a low-key, pedestrian spleen. the songs here are just easy-listening lullabies that just come and go without much consequence, Yorke's voice and personality that are normally quite upfront (especially on The Eraser) sound virtual, accessory, and although the album's really "nice" to listen to, it's impossible to really care about it or feel that something's happening in it. it's so lukewarm that I wouldn't even go as far as saying it's a proper disappointment.

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john p.
Feb 24, 2013 11:06pm

Although most of Radiohead's output leaves me cold and I absolutely HATE the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I enjoy AMOK a lot, being a bunch of relatively modest pieces (more soundscapes than songs) with lots of small details. And yes, the second half is way better. Love the Ummagumma-vocals in the background of the title song.

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SY
Feb 26, 2013 5:38pm

definitely not as good as The Eraser. Ingenue is pretty irritating in fact.

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