Music review: Atoms for Peace - Thom Yorke revels in his newfound creative freedom


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The Independent Culture

“We've decided we're gonna do a workout video,” Thom Yorke jokes, presumably alluding to his vest-clad surfer look. The Radiohead frontman is displaying his more laidback demeanour, warmed by the Los Angeles sun where this side project came together. Wobbling his head and twitching his shoulders to Atoms For Peace's grinding leftfield rhythms, Yorke revels in his newfound creative freedom, even if reaching the heights of his other band remains a harder challenge.

Formed in 2009 to perform his electronica-based solo project The Eraser, this stellar five-piece are only now making their full UK debut (following a laptop session with Yorke and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, also here tonight). So Atoms For Peace is less a supergroup and more a name-dropping backing band, even though they have since recorded Amok, an album released to moderate reviews earlier this year. Such an idiosyncratic musical journey is par for an artist constantly questioning the music-making process and the industry around it.

Last week, Yorke pulled Amok and his solo album from Spotify, his reasonable arguments about streaming's business model slightly undermined by his ability to sell footage from tonight online. At least some of the income has gone on an impressive light show that uses much of this cavernous venue's height. On stage, though, the musicians gel together less well. Too often Red Hot Chili Pepper's bassist Flea has to compete with Godrich's own low-end textures, while drummer Joey Waronker's reinventions of Yorke's jittery electro beats tangle with the eclectic percussion of Mauro Refosco.

His marimba becomes inaudible, though elsewhere the Brazilian creates a fine raindrop effect. With familiar tenor vocal and sturdy falsetto, Yorke keeps above the fray, though his freewheeling displays are hard to follow too. While Yorke may claim the group bonded over a love of Afrobeat, there is little use of space amid the competing rhythms individual members follow - such is the perversity of the project: recreating computerised creations, or as with Amok, digital edits of studio jams.

Think Bloc Party stuck in a tumble dryer on fast spin. The group devise remarkable moments, mind, usually when Flea grounds the prog-funk, as on a sensational 'Harrowdown Hill', when his seething buzz reminds us of the injustice of David Kelly's death. Elsewhere, his slap-happy contributions to 'Stuck Together Pieces' and 'Default' provide upbeat contrasts. So Yorke's muse thrives with less isolation and alienation, though these Atoms can fuse further still.