When Thom Yorke quietly released his first solo album The Eraser in 2006, it was not so much a revelation as an affirmation. This is what Thom Yorke sounds like. The pianos and fuzzy beats, the skittering, glitchy electronics and anxious lyrics that were evident in his larger body of work with Radiohead were front and center on The Eraser. Six and a half years and two Radiohead albums later, Yorke is back with a sequel of sorts. It’s not a solo album, technically. Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich is onboard again, not only as a producer this time but also as a band member in Yorke’s side project Atoms for Peace along with Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Beck drummer Joey Waronker and percussionist Mauro Refosco. The silent partner in this L.A.-centric crowd is one Beck Hansen. The first time many of us in the mainstream heard something like the junkyard percussion featured on Amok was on Beck’s 1998 Nigel Godrich-produced masterpiece Mutations, specifically on “Tropicalia.”
Both Godrich and Waronker were involved in the production of that album. Fast-forward to 2011 and you can hear the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink-aesthetic on Radiohead’s King of Limbs. As Yorke explained in an interview with Q magazine during the Kid A era, “I’d completely had it with melody. I just wanted rhythm.” On King of Limbs Yorke succeeded for the most part.
In a recent Reddit AMA, Godrich was asked how it is working with Atoms for Peace compared to working with Radiohead to which he responded, “Like eating ice cream after a lovely dinner.” Amok definitely feels lighter than Radiohead, but in a good way. As a student at Exeter in the late 80s, Yorke worked as a DJ and has been eating beats for breakfast for the better part of two decades. Atoms for Peace has more in common with the artists that influenced Yorke like Massive Attack, Aphex Twin and Autechre and his recent collaborations with Burial, Four Tet, Modeselektor and Flying Lotus than with the headier rock of Radiohead. Yorke’s enigmatic lyrical flow follows its usual circular logic and even though most of the songs have a certain robot prison camp quality there are moments of transcendence here. Top-shelf synths, choral interludes and Ethio-jazz grooves and the sound of five virtuoso musicians jamming out is reason enough to think about getting tickets to one of the upcoming Atoms for Peace shows.