The chief similarity between AMOK, the first album by Atoms For Peace, and The King Of Limbs, the last album by Radiohead, is a wiggly, insistent movement. It’s no secret that Thom Yorke—the frontman for both bands—has lately found true love in electronic music, preferring repetitive clicks and synths to anything resembling a traditional guitar. And with this decidedly super group—it features Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, producer Nigel Godrich, and session man extraordinaire Joey Waronker—he continues to explore that increasingly dominant side of his personality. But the chief difference between AMOK and The King Of Limbs is how alive and invested AMOK sounds, almost as if it’s a do-over of the frequently airless Limbs.
Most of that should be attributed to Yorke, who just sounds like he’s having a better day on AMOK. Guitars are left almost entirely in the dust once again (“Anyone can play guitar,” as a wise man said), and when they do show up it’s as part of a complicated palette of sound. Album opener “Before Your Very Eyes…” starts with an untreated electric guitar, but it eventually gives way to a fully processed, electronic sound—except for Yorke’s voice. It’s hard not to read the song as a statement of purpose, since it so beautifully blends and transitions the organic and electronic. Same goes for the fantastic “Reverse Running,” the only other AMOK song on which electric guitar is recognizable. (It’s also the one most likely to appeal to Radiohead fans who’ve lapsed in the last decade.)
Everywhere else, though, AMOK is all about the assorted clicks and clacks, the bass—Flea is fantastically busy, but never annoying—and Yorke’s longing vocals. Sometimes it’s easy to sing along, as on the skeletal “Default” (“I laugh now / But later’s not so easy”), and sometimes the whole thing disappears into a whir, particularly the album-closing title track. But AMOK sits mostly in the fertile place between those two points, with highlights coming in the middle: “Dropped” is flat-out awesome, particularly because it starts off so slowly and demurely, then suddenly exhibits a head-spinning passion. If Yorke is trying to mess with the very idea of a pop song, that’s where he does it best. “Ingénue” boasts similar sensual moments; though it doesn’t go anywhere, it makes the act of whirling around in circles something to marvel at.
Casual Radiohead fans—do such things exist anymore?—could lump AMOK right in with Yorke’s 2006 pre-Atoms solo album, The Eraser, as well as King Of Limbs and even In Rainbows. Sonically, it’s in the same universe. But those who’ve been disenchanted by Yorke’s ever-wandering muse, especially on Limbs, might consider finding their way back to him via this compelling doorway.