Not A 4×4 Beat To Be Found
In a world where the “four on the floor” dance beat is taking over the radio, a refreshing wind comes from the debut album by Atoms For Peace called “Amok”, which gives the steady kick drum a rest. Not to say that this album doesn’t have rhythm, or a solid beat; it has that and more.
Thom Yorke (lead singer of Radiohead), Flea (bassist of Red Hot Chili Peppers), Nigel Godrich (Radiohead producer), Joey Waronker (drummer for Beck, also toured with REM) and Mauro Refosco (percussionist, works with Red Hot Chili Peppers) come together to form what will not be called a “super group,” but just a fantastic collaboration of musical minds.
Keeping in mind that Yorke and Godrich want this album to have a joyful feel might be hard to get over at first; but once that’s embraced, this album is an amazing experience.
The album opens with “Before Your Very Eyes,” which features an upbeat guitar riff and driving kick drum, giving us that carefree feeling to kick-start Amok. Yorke’s voice asks us to look out the window and see what’s passing us by, as a funky bass line accompanies the swirling mix of percussion, guitar and vocals. Just after the first chorus — “sooner or later, before your very eyes” — a heavy synth bass breaks through the mix and surges the song into a fantastic dance-able state.
Now for the first showstopper of the album: Instead of cutting the synth out during the next chorus, it carries right on through, adding another fantastic layer of depth and carrying the song up yet another level. This song feels like one of those powerful moments in life when you are on the edge of being serious and uncontrollably happy — and the happiness is taking over.
One by one, dance-fueled stabbing synth strings carry us through the next song, “Default,” followed by a broken beat and a steady bass line, which fill any gaps that the strings have left. Soon the high-pitched vocals with heavy echo that we’ve all come to know and love from Thom Yorke come in and complete the mixture of waveforms into a full-bodied song. Imagine a drummer going ballistic on the most complex drum kit you’ve ever seen, keeping in perfect time with this incredible beat. Cut the echo, queue the long, refreshing synth chords, and we have one fantastic chorus to give this song just the push it needed.
The steady woodblocks that sound like percussive water droplets in the background of “Ingenue” combine with sweeping synth melodies and give us a calming melody. Sticking to the lighthearted feelings throughout this album, one might imagine a kid moving through their day with a genuine innocence and having the sort of fun that only a kid can have. This song sets the tone, musically, for “Dropped,” which keeps the rather stripped-down, calm feel that allows us to focus on how the vocal melodies blend with the synth. Soon, the snare begins to cut through the mix, exploring out of it’s previously muted shell, just before a solid bass line syncs perfectly with the break beat-esque rhythm, jumping the song into a friendly, dance mood. A harmony filled meditative breakdown slows the song, before ending back on the familiar bass and beat.
The synths in the intro of “Unless” sound a bit like the theme song from Hamburger Hill, but gone into electronic mode (which has nothing to do with the song, but it’s still an amusing coincidence). Building and building from almost nothing, a bass line crashes through the sound accompanied by repetitious vocals from Yorke with a complex drum beat keeping rhythm. This song is dancy and meditative at the same time, keeping our full attention, yet leaving us to question how much time has past.
The beat of “Reverse Running” could be listened to all by itself for hours on end. It seems disjointed and all over the place, but blends perfectly with the song and is never off step. This song, in all of its oddities, is one of the most beautiful on the record, complete with a strange vocal break about halfway through, which sounds like nothing more than a repeated and chopped up nonsensical clip of Yorke’s voice. This wakes the song up for a second, entrances us for a moment, then brings the bass back in and continues on a steady beat until the end of the song. Quite the journey to pack into one single song.
The final track is rightly called “Amok.” Haunting vocals in the background with a heavy echo give this song the first unsettling vibe of the album. It’s as if the song itself is running amok, until the faint piano in the background pulls everything together, giving the song a completely new feeling, all of the pieces suddenly working together, creating a very moving chord progression. The vocals, piano, synth, drums and bass swell into each other as the song progresses, overtaking all thoughts and sounds in the surrounding area. Quickly dying off, leaving us with silence.
It’s almost as if Yorke could sing over these bass riffs and drum beats for hours on end, never to run out of creative material. Taking our bodies over with a mix of vocal harmonies, guitar and that ever-driving bass that pushes each song forward, each instrument mixes perfectly together in a swirl of music euphoria. Complemented by some of the most creative drum beats that can be found in recent music, Atoms For Peace have mastered their craft, and it shows in Amok.