Atoms for Peace: Amok
-- By Stephen Thompson
No two words have ever summed up the music of Radiohead's Thom Yorke quite like his band's own song title, "Paranoid Android." It's all there: the unease and suspicion, the weight of worry, the otherworldly quality, the blend of man and machine, the sense that we're all headed toward imminent collapse. At a time when every detail of an artist's life is available in the time it takes to perform a Google search, Yorke still possesses genuine mystique -- there's an alien quality to him that feels unknowable, and helps make his music achingly beautiful.
In recent years, Yorke has divided his time between Radiohead and a solo career in which he lends his vocals to fidgety, largely electronics-driven pursuits. But after touring as a solo act with the assistance of some of his favorite collaborators -- including bassist Flea and longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich -- Yorke's side project has now morphed into another band, Atoms for Peace, named for both a 1953 quote from Dwight Eisenhower and a song title from Yorke's 2006 solo album The Eraser.
On Amok, Atoms for Peace's first official album (out Feb. 25), Yorke lays his weary-but-soaring vocals over an assortment of sounds that whir, clatter, click, twitch and sprawl. To listen on headphones is to get sucked into a game of Name That Sound -- is that a ball bearing rolling around in a bucket? -- which only enhances the fascination with songs that unfurl confidently but deliberately, usually over the course of at least five minutes.
Thanks to the instrumental help of additional collaborators, Amok finds a way to meet in the middle between a buzzy bedroom project like The Eraser and Radiohead's own full-blooded grandiosity -- in part because the new album so effectively blurs the lines between electronics and live instrumentation. But Amok still fits squarely into Yorke's more interior solo sound world: a man pacing worriedly in his basement instead of sending his voice piercing heavenward, but sounding no less vital in the process.
Amok will be availabe to stream on demand from Tuesday, February 19 through February 26, 2013.