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

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.