‘Reverse Running’ (precursor to title track ‘Amok’) by no coincidence places the two words ‘Running’ and ‘Amok’ together in the tracklisting – a common colloquialism which states blatantly the message of discontent. There can be no doubt, with the masterful marrying of concept with the music that at the heart is disdain and desperation. Atoms For Peace lay before us the emotion of their world and allow us to decipher the morality, succumbing to the impending nightmare with screaming synths on ‘Reverse Running’, and the aching agony of loss in the painful bassline of ‘Amok’.
Atoms For Peace – Amok
It’s possible to deconstruct every aspect of the record which is one of artistic complexity, laying clues and relying on the intelligence of the listener. Yorke is no longer screaming directly in the face of those who draw his reply but instead he is having a subverted conversation with the people who matter – those powerless and victim, to which he, and they, align themselves. They don’t have the answers to our world and Amok thoroughly represents the discontent at large within it, a harrowing and accurate reflection of our times. Atoms For Peace succeed in orating a rallying call which places art among the medium for the people. They utilise their wonderfully crafted voice to raise hope in their own dismay. The one’s ‘running amok’ are never named, never explicitly acknowledged, but it’s enough to recognise that they are there.
Gone are the days when Thom Yorke would overtly scream his lyrics from his angsty young lungs and flash his tongue with a flicker of vitriol. “You do it to yourself, you do, and that’s what really hurts,” seems astonishingly direct, particularly considering that he’s unaccompanied for that outburst. Even in Radiohead’s more recent exploits he much prefers to shrink behind expansive constructions and house rhythms than be at the forefront as a messiah. It’s not that Yorke is becoming shy – far from it. Whereas Radiohead’s contemporaries, namely Oasis and Blur, attained their fans and began to write for them, Yorke, Radiohead, and now Atoms For Peace, began an artistic journey to discover how their music represented them. Resulting in greater focus on the manipulation of ambience rather than typical song-forms and structure. Yorke has made no secret of his appreciation for the dance epithet with much of his recent output, both collaboratively and individually, centring upon the rhythm.
Along with his production partner, Nigel Godrich, Flea (Red Hot Chilli Peppers), Joey Waronker (R.E.M.) and Mauro Refosco, Atoms For Peace has undoubted echoes of Radiohead’s latest efforts and understandably so. The difference here, on Amok, is that they indulge further both in complex percussive arrangement, and synth and electronic samples. The metaphysical production on Amok displays both of these facets magnificently with Flea’s distinctive bass style anchoring the frantic strains. Amok truly exemplifies mature and masterful conceptions providing not only a powerfully understated soundtrack but undertones which are highly politicized. The execution is such that if you don’t search for the hints of social comment then they won’t impinge upon the listening experience. However, if you decide to indulge in every fissure, there are subtleties which can be foraged endlessly. Despite the array of renowned talent on display here, no aspect vies for isolated attention with the work itself respected as more than the sum of its parts.
If we were to follow, or explore, the narrative of Atoms For Peace’s debut there are explicit revelations which are telling of the content, but the more noticeable feature is what we aren’t given, or what we aren’t shown. There’s a purgatorial air which seems to lament, being unwilling and unable to resolve itself. As Yorke’s vocal often is, the answers are out of reach, but the questions are many. As a truly artistic interpretation of the state of things, Amok doesn’t propose a solution but begins a dialogue. It’s conceivable that the paranoid energy that seems busy and endless makes comment on the inevitability of downfall, “Will is strong; Flesh is weak.” The human element almost disappears in the lingering, fading notes which represent the disillusionment within.
There’s a telling hint on ‘Judge, Jury and Executioner’ which is sung to invert the order and accentuate the ‘Executioner’, with the ‘Jury’ washed over as insignificant. Yorke’s lyrics accept defeat and carry on regardless with a real spite for the increasingly controlling nature of society, or perhaps capitalism. His soulful refrains seep into the arrangement and elevate from it when he wants to accentuate the message as on ‘Unless’, “Such a mess, I know it’s useless.”
Atoms For Peace – Amok is released on 25th February 2013 by XL Recordings