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Mar 22, 2013
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atoms for peace amok album review

The term “superband” is overrated. When you have Radiohead’s vocalist, the crazy talented bassist of Red Hot Chili Peppers, an ingenious producer and an “industry favorite” drummer form a band, it should be called “magic.”

And Atom's For Peace's album, AMOK, indeed scratches the surface of magic with the 9 tracks created by these four prodigious musical minds, like four mad audio architects mapping the scientific process of pleasuring the brain. “Is it possible to create this kind of lovely madness?” some die-hard fans might ask upon listening. With these four musicians, it kind of is.

The tracks are brain-deep, trickling right on the nerves inside the listeners’ head, like almost feeling the sound vibrating on the inside of the skull with beats, drum, and bass. Always a pleasure to the ear, Thom’s voice and guitars slice in silhouettes, complimented by Flea’s bass play and Joey’s unpredictable drum synthesis—all patterned and fit together by Nigel like a mind-boggling puzzle. If fans are wondering why the black and white, lined AMOK album art looks too similar with Yorke’s The Eraser cover, it’s because both were done by artist and Radiohead friend, Stanley Donwood.

A little background behind Thom Yorke and Flea’s band mates:  

Joey Waronker is Beck Hansen’s esteemed drummer who has sessioned for industry giants such as The Smashing Pumpkins, The Vines,  Eliott Smith, Air, Charlotte Gainsbourg , REM, Gnarls Barkley, Norah Jones, Tegan and Sara, and M83. Musical prophet, Nigel Godrich, has built his career producing Radiohead albums that make fans trip the sh*it out of their minds, as well as some by Air (Pocket Symphony, Moon Safari), Here We Go Magic (A Different Ship), and Beck (Sea Change, The Information).

Godrich is known for creating a symphony of layers and atmospheric sounds that make each track a memorable sip of audio delight. Based on the albums he has produced, Godrich knows how to control human emotions with his buttons and knobs; from sad to excited, from downtrodden to euphoric.

Literally running amok with glitches and beats, Nigel told NME.com that jazz was a huge element during the recording process of the album, in terms of creating and the crowd interaction they intend to pull-off.

“We were thinking about things in very much a jazz way in terms of using edits and big blocks of music to create arrangements.” says the producer and beat-maker.

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The album opens with Before Your Very Eyes, an audio display of Yorke’s constant vocal ability to hold your soul by a thread and lift it up in the air. Default starts with strong and almost-intoxicating beat collections matched with the enigma and painful reality of Yorke’s lyrics.

“Oh what a troubled silent, poor boy/ A pawn into a queen/ I laugh now/ But later's not so easy/ I've gotta stop/ the will is strong/ But the flesh is weak/ Guess that's it”

“Gone with a touch of your hand/ Move through the moment/ Though it betrays/ Transformations/ Jackals and flames” mysteriously writes Thom in Ingenue, the kind of song that perfectly blends the brim-full of talent involved in the band. Dropped begins in moderately fast and sharp samples, following a slowdown with a surprising peak in the middle. Unless is a synth and bass-heavy number that will remind listeners of Kid A if it was produced in the 80’s. 

Reverse Running is made up of different kinds of complexities, canopied by Waronker’s fast thumps. Again, the song features Yorke’s smooth vocal delivery to pave a lacy way to a beautiful chaos led by Flea’s bass lines.  

Stuck Together Pieces opens with Flea’s steady direction, with Thom smoothly entering with the kind of plucking that a fan would associate with his work on In Rainbows, specifically, on the song Weird Fishes. Waronker adds some color with calm drum sequences for Godrich to manipulate and magnify.  

Judge Jury and Executioner taps the consciousness with Flea’s underwater bass sound, seeping through the curtains of Yorke’s sheer voice contrasted by the beats. The album ends with the title track, a hazy number that truly revs up the role of each band member into full gear: the similarities and contrasts of their styles and preferences indeed make one intelligently-trippy album.

Godrich sees the album’s vibe is a “blurring” kind of electronica. True, but it sounds more like a whirlwind of mastered sound and a well-arranged delivery of noise.

In a nutshell, AMOK is The Eraser, Hail to the Thief, and Kid A on a hallucinatory substance binge, with a wild mixture of thumping and mellow songs enough to give a natural high to anyone who listens to it. The kinds of arrangements, time signatures and broken beats constantly present in the album do have a tinge of jazz influence; fusing the analog and futuristic into the spine of this beat-heavy record. 

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