Album of the week

Album review: Atoms for Peace, Amok (XL)

2.00

Thom Yorke: Samey sounds spoil Radiohead frontman’s debut album with supergroup

While it generally repays interest to follow what Thom Yorke's getting up to, that interest has been getting harder to sustain recently. I know I'm not the only one who failed to be lured back to The King of Limbs as much as its predecessors, and I found last year's live show rather more impressive than enjoyable. And sadly, that trajectory continues with Amok, the first release from Atoms for Peace, the pick-up band assembled to play material from his solo album The Eraser, a track from which furnished the band name.

Despite the different line-up – with bassist Flea, drummer Joey Waronker, percussionist Mauro Refosco and producer Nigel Godrich alongside Yorke – stylistically it's a fairly straight extension of the itchy electro grooves of The King of Limbs, with the melodies just as difficult to trace among the clamour of hyperactive rhythm programmes, puttering hi-hats, gated twitch-samples, pulsing bass and cloudy synth pads. Sometimes, as on opener "Before Your Very Eyes", the various elements don't seem to cohere initially, remaining discrete with only Yorke's falsetto unifying them.

But there's a homogeneity to the album's sound as a whole, with songs often differentiated by only a single distinctive sound: the gentle African-style guitar chording on "Before Your Very Eyes", the marimba progression in "Dropped", the watery guitar figure of "Stuck Together Pieces".

Otherwise, the overall impression is of a music caught between busy, mechanistic rhythm programmes and more abstract instrumental designs, with pale, etiolated melodies carried by Yorke's gossamer vocals, which often hover on the very edge of audibility.

Such phrases as one can make out suggest a mingling of clichés – "The will is strong but the flesh is weak", "Judge, jury and executioner" – with the kind of epigrammatic phrasing that leaves plenty of room for interpretation, notably the stream-of-consciousness of "Reverse Running".

It's all typically hard work to decipher, both lyrically and musically, but unlike Yorke's earlier endeavours with Radiohead, this time I'm rather less convinced that it's going to be worth the effort. It's certainly less fun.

Download: Before Your Very Eyes; Default

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