Arriving packaged in one of the most memorable CD cases I've seen in a long time (a double-sided five-piece panel opens out to reveal a black, white and silver miniature pop-art style mural which shows America in an apocalyptic state from the Lost Angeles series by British artist Stanley Donwood), there's much anticipation as play is pushed on Amok. Coming nearly seven years after Thom Yorke's debut solo album The Eraser, this time he's gathered the band which formed to play that album live, and created a sort of supergroup named Atoms For Peace.
Yorke is very much still at the helm, his signature hypnotic style, with flickering beats, pulsing synthesisers, and waves of vocals that careen between joyful and weary are apparent throughout. But with the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea on bass, Nigel Godrich (Gnarls Barkley, Air) on production and programming, Mauro Refosco (David Byrne) on percussion and Joey Waronker (Beck, Bat For Lashes) on drums, the sounds feel fuller, more textured, and definitely more danceable.
There's something about the beautiful relationship between the bass drums and beats this time that's incredibly seductive, and though they're still highly propulsive, there's also a gentle, cheeky swing and sway to be heard in places. They've taken a smattering of R&B rhythms, combined with various world influences - mostly African, the odd hint of Spanish, and probably others too intricate to unravel - and come up with something that feels surprisingly earthly. The beginning of catchy Stuck Together Pieces makes particularly excellent use of an uber-cool melodic bassline, wound into urgent African drumming and winking percussion.
The instrumentation has something energetic and irrepressible about it, which elegantly offsets Yorke's often melancholy world view. He sounds less angry here and more prophetic, though occasionally gently threatening: "fools rush in", "careless, I couldn't care less", and "you don't get away so easily" are all repeated phrases. Perhaps the only complaint on an album that has such headstrong dynamic range, and employs such a clever collision of rhythmic patterns and instrumental hooks, Yorke's vocals don't have quite the same spellbinding quality that they can have on Radiohead tracks - despite the often clever, provoking, questioning lyrics, they sometimes drift over the music, rather than being anchored in it. Judge Jury and Executioner stands out for its astonishingly cool ability to weave and bounce the awfully eerie lyrics through what feels almost like a submerged, watery soundscape.
Verdict: Nicely understated, warmer outing from Thom Yorke
Click here to buy Atoms for Peace by Amok.