Thom Yorke's been a pretty busy guy over the course of the last several years. Which is a nice thing for Radiohead fans, who are typically used to sitting in silence for like, five or six years whilst waiting for their favorite band to maybe put out something new. When the Thom put out his first solo record, it was definitely a pleasant surprise. The fact that he put together a supergroup comprised of Flea, Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker (of Beck and REM fame), and Mauro Refosco (badass Brazilian percussionist) was another awesome surprise, but it was one that made a lot of sense. Thom Yorke's music (Radiohead-related and otherwise) has never really stopped evolving over the course of his decently long career, and its latest iterations have been some of the most bold and exciting. Sure, Thom and Co. have always known their way around the studio; they've produced some of the best-sounding records around. It's not really a secret that they're through-and-through performers, either. In the last several years, though, Yorke and his collaborators have found new and interesting ways to bridge the gap between these two settings, creating live versions of songs that might operate within the same framework as their studio counterparts, but that often wind up sounding completely different altogether. The result has been a dynamic and ever-changing musical presence that really comes into the forefront on Atoms for Peace's newest record AMOK. Apparently recorded over the course of a three-day jam session, Amok has been said to feature a lot more African influences ("We got wasted, played pool, and listened to Fela Kuti all night," reports Yorke), and it certainly does. Yorke's guitar work is, for the most part, kept in the higher register: album opener "Before Your Very Eyes..." leads you in with a tinkling clean electric guitar, one of those noticeably "brittle" sounds that Yorke referred to in interviews leading up to the album's release.
Of course, perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of this release is the fact that Flea plays on it. His presence on the Atoms for Peace live tour a few years ago was definitely cause to write home, and it was exciting to see how he would move within the recorded space of this new record. Flea is, of course, a true professional and artist, and this is apparent when you listen to Amok. His playing and style still bears that incredibly familiar taste that really can't belong to anyone but Flea, but he keeps it tame, instead opting to communicate by way of his unique cadences and bending grace-notes. You might not hear his signature slap funk painted all over this record, but a close listen to any bass line will reveal a finesse that really can't belong to anyone else.
In relation to the rest of Thom Yorke and Radiohead's work over the course of the last several years, Amok fits right in. It's a bit abstract and sonically thin, a lot like The King of Limbs, but it's also stark in the same ways that The Eraser was. When Godrich and Yorke work on Atoms for Peace, they're certainly not about to shy away from the latter's trademark reverb-drenched vocals, but the former definitely seems to have a great time keeping things in check. Nothing is ever overdone, and the arrangements never forget to give themselves room to breathe; it's obvious that Amok was recorded by a ton of people who have been working in music studios for the majority of their lives.
As far as its actual content, Amok is a pretty attractive record. "Before Your Very Eyes..." makes it clear that Yorke has no intention of being bound by any kind of structure when he doesn't want to; the album's first track starts out one way and quickly morphs into something entirely different. This theme pushes through a lot of the record, as songs will often start to head in one direction before revealing themselves to be something entirely different. "Ingénue" is easily one of the album's standout tracks; its oscillating synth sounds wobble and revolve like they're weighted on one side before forming a soft pad on which Yorke's vocals easily float. "Stuck Together Pieces" slides in with a reminder as to why it was such a great idea to put Flea in a band with Thom Yorke in the first place, and the more straightforward "Judge, Jury, and Executioner" has some of the album's best vocal moments.
It's nice to not have to say that a Radiohead album was worth the wait, for once. Thom Yorke has kept himself pretty consistently busy lately, and the efforts are paying off in a very positive way. The band is apparently about to record a new album this summer, once Atoms for Peace finish touring in support of Amok (something which will, almost undoubtedly, yield a few exciting new versions of songs featured on the record, as well). Basically, it's a great time to be a Radiohead fan. Even if you aren't, though, Amok is definitely an album that's worth your time.
Here's an awesome video of Thom Yorke dancing to "Ingénue," because that's what he does.