Atoms for Peace is a band with impossible expectations, so group members might as well have as much fun as possible.
Anchored by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, the super-group released “AMOK” after strictly touring for more than three years. Every song treads Radioheadesque territories, meshing dance and alternative genres.
Yorke and Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich’s extracurricular ambitions birthed Atoms for Peace, which poses an unfair question after each song: Would Radiohead record it? The answer is yes in some cases. Track one, “Before Your Very Eyes…,” sends sonic blues that slash into Yorke’s psyche, potentially continuing his manic dance from 2011’s “Lotus Flower” video.
Fans of Radiohead’s “King of Limbs” will enjoy the continual drum kicks and earthy howls throughout “AMOK.”
All tracks are elegantly layered. Godrich makes as large of an impact as the eccentric singer because with such complicated music comes a need for strong production. “Default” sounds like an ‘80s arcade tune playing right before the end of the world. Key riffs trance listeners until an observation is made. Flea and his bass aren’t audible.
For a musician who wore a sock on his privates for Red Hot Chili Peppers shows in the ‘90s, Flea allows drum patterns and Yorke to standout—not antics. Initially, I assumed the band would parade Flea often; he’s the predominant contrast between this project and Radiohead. Bass riffs rarely captivate, though, which makes me long for Radiohead members Johnny Greenwood and Phillip Selway.
Fortunately, as “AMOK” progresses, numerous elements differentiate it from Yorke’s previous work.
With “Unless,” Flea finally slaps bass hard under fun lyrics: “Careless, I couldn’t care less/Such a mess, I know it’s useless.” Fun lyrics and Yorke? These terms mostly clash, and the album’s greatest quality is Yorke and gang let loose, things Radiohead would never do. Where lyrics normally convey indifference, they show anger, and typically slow keys chime.
Beauty resonates on song six, “Stuck Together Pieces.” Similar to “King of Limbs,” memorable guitar hides until this point. Every instrument has a purpose, though, and by the instrumental, numerous chants join slide, distorted-to-the-max guitar. Godrich and Yorke haven’t completed anything so stunning since 2007’s “Bodysnatchers.”
With three tracks remaining, “AMOK” has potential that may lament it as an alternative classic. The current single, “Judge Jury and Executioner,” meshes a simple drum pattern with acoustic notes greater than any amped-up electric guitar.
However, the album’s final two songs sound generic and fall flat.
After three memorable bass lines, Flea disappears again, and “Reverse Running” sounds like a Radiohead B-side. Repetitive, malaise rhythm fills the breaks and the lyrics don’t compel; what should take fewer than three minutes goes more than five. The title track initially oozes of potential but doesn’t take any of-note turns. “AMOK” ends poorly.
Atoms for Peace’s debut album shows Yorke can ease and have as much fun as Flea. When fun isn’t an option, though, filler lyrics and boring rhythms take its place. Radiohead members are convening to record another album in September, and “AMOK” might satisfy fans until then. Either that or they’ll replay classics such as “In Rainbows,” “Kid A” and “OK Computer”—where Yorke exhibits true genius.
Final Rating: Three and-a-half out of five suns.