Atom’s for Peace come with all the advance publicity- and attendant weight of expectation- your jobbing supergroup has come to expect. Formed by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, with vocals from Thom Yorke and bass contributions from man about town, Flea, the pedigree is there to see. The tunes, however, are not always so apparent.
Opener Before Your Very Eyes is a promising start, with the shuffling afrobeat rhythms providing a stuttering backdrop for Yorke’s drawn out vocals. The effect is both nervy and warm, less melancholic than Radiohead fare, but drawn from the same DNA. As the jittering guitar evolves into fuzzy washes of synth, Yorke’s voice flies ever further above, words unclear but tone angelic. It’s a beautiful, choral piece, a hymn from an alien.
Next cut Default is a kind of nerdy dancehall work out. Godrich’s rhythms twitch and syncopate whilst the bass throbs front and centre. The chorus (as much as any of the songs on Amok have such a formal thing) is made of blocks of shivering 70s prog synths, and the Aphex Twin influence is clear. It’s a strong track, with Yorke’s unique voice again taking on the quality of an instrument, high, ethereal and otherworldy. After here things go downhill somewhat, with Ingenue made of bubbling electronics that seem to be a few randomly evolving synth loops made to no purpose, and Dropped, with it’s clever-clever drum n’bass breaks, sounding less like the future, and more the kind of late 90s folk-jungle fusion Lamb used to flog. It’s dated nature seems unfortunate, particularly when Amok strives so hard to sound new.
Unless gets things back on track – the base elements remain the same – insectile percussion skittering between speakers, Thom wailing “I am weightless” mournfully, and low pulsing basslines, but this time there’s a sense of purpose, a dynamic that makes the song seem more than an exercise in studio skill. This purpose is crucial to Atom’s For Peace, at the moments it vanishes – which it often does – their songs resemble a mathematical conundrum; interesting, fairly taxing, and devoid of any connection beyond the intellectual. The humanity is there in flashes throughout – on Flea’s bass on Stuck Together Pieces, insistent with a muted funk, or the hand claps of Judge, Jury and Executioner, and there is plenty to enjoy on the album, particularly if you like your music to come University educated – and let’s face it, that’s going to be the case for a fair chunk of the target audience. The feeling lingers though; if they’d gone a bit lighter on the brains and bit heavier on the songs this could have been a classic. 7/10