I have to write several hundred words on it, but if you wanted me to sum up the debut album from Atoms For Peace (Thom Yorke, Nigel Godrich, Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Joey Waronker of R.E.M. and Beck, and Mauro Refosco, I'd call it 'The King of Limbs with hooks.' Radiohead's most recent album is the easiest reference point with which to start, because those two records share similar sounds. In the case of AMOK, however, it doesn't sound like five people in a room making music - it's often difficult to discern who's doing what, when. The line between performance and programming is blurred; it's not a 'band' record. It seems more like a natural sequel to Yorke's 2006 solo venture 'The Eraser than anything else. Like that album, it features nine songs and covers a similar amount of ground. Away from all the comparisons and similarities, however, it's well able to stand on its own.
With the apocalyptic artwork of Stanley Donwood featured on the front cover, one could be forgiven for going into the album prepared for another foreboding and unsettling listen, as The Eraser could sometimes be. By the end of its second track, however, it would not be surprising if those fears had been laid to rest. This is the most accessible thing Yorke's put his name to since he stole a march on the music industry with In Rainbows six years ago. The muted guitar and subtle percussion of 'Before Your Very Eyes...' opens the album, gradually building to an angelic-sounding chorus that should silence those who wondered if Yorke's vocals weren't what they used to be. He hits some impressive notes on this album, and indeed, he's not the only one who gets his chance to shine. Flea's contribution to 'Stuck Together Pieces' is an infectious bassline that lends the song an unexpectedly funky vibe, standing out in the context of the album. Yorke's been there before, though - 'Black Swan', anyone?
There are moments on the album when one could say that Yorke has one eye on the pop charts, even if his melodies are just strange enough to give them an idiosyncratic feel; he's long since mastered that kind of thing, and the morse code-like hook that opens 'Default' may seem strange at first, but it works perfectly in the context of the song; ditto the bubbling synths of 'Dropped', which hang about for a minute and a half or so before falling away as Flea's bass takes over and it transmogrifies into something completely different for a while. These songs are versatile, often changing at the drop of a hat; the pure pop of 'Ingenue' (whose synth hook sounds as huge as it's possible to get on an album like this) is a great example of this, driven by precise and technical rhythms that add a whole new dimension to the song. The minimal sound of these songs means that one slight change is equivalent to a seismic shift.
This fluidity of dynamics is no more apparent than on 'Unless', which builds from sparse beginnings to an absolute monster of a track, its bruising bridge section (which once again places emphasis on the bass) proving that AFP are as inventive as the band's individual parts would suggest. Current single 'Judge, Jury And Executioner', meanwhile, is written in 7/8, making it come across differently than album's other songs (all written in conventional time signatures), and sounds like Yorke's side project is trying to outdo his other band in pure Radiohead-ness - not that that's a bad thing, of course. After 'Reverse Running', which sounds almost jazzy at times thanks to the free-wheeling percussion, the album draws to a close with the title track, which once again undergoes a jaw-dropping change towards the end, its layers coalescing in a spine-tinglingly beautiful finale. Expectations for the album itself have been insanely high, but thankfully, it lives up to the hype. Whatever shape a Thom Yorke side-project takes in future, one can bet Atoms For Peace have done enough for a follow-up to AMOK.