Titles are a curious thing. At times they are clues and insight into the work as a whole and at other instances completely baffling. In many ways Amok is such a perfect title for the new Atoms for Peace record because of how brazenly anti-traditional yet curiously brilliant it is in style and structure. All you have to do is start with track one which sounds as though it has begun in media res, sort of like an aural Finnegan’s Wake; the beginning is the end is the beginning. Or, try figuring out what the odd intro line and recurring sound in “Ingenue” (my favorite sequence) that seems to be a Casio keyboard (probably a Moog) shoe-horned through a theremin.
For those unfamiliar with the band, Atoms for Peace grew out of Thom Yorke’s desire to tour behind his solo release The Eraser. Enlisting fellow Radiohead collaborator/producer Nigel Godrich along with Flea and Joey Waronker, Atoms for Peace transformed a “laptop bedroom” masterpiece into a full scale rock extravaganza, replete with Flea’s dynamic onstage presence and Thome’s minimalist dance moves. If you missed their tour, it is a darn shame. It was amazing especially if you caught the opening act Flying Lotus.
After touring they decided to put together an album with the full band, Amok is the offspring of this experiment. As the title tries to invert its inherent negative connotation (generally things gone “amok” aren’t pleasant especially to the ears), the record plays against traditional rock record schemas yet pleases with its textures and soundscapes. I’ll admit that hearing the first two singles I was a bit on the fence because I couldn’t emotionally or mentally anchor into the idea of what was happening. Listening to the record as a whole, the tracks “make sense” and truly blossom like a lotus flower set in its proper element. Amok is to me a textbook example of why albums are often meant to be consumed as a whole and not in their constituent parts (e.g., singles or emphasis tracks). (Don’t get me wrong some artists and bands don’t record full-fledged albums but a collection of singles, i.e., most commercial pop musicians, but there are those who want you to take the whole ride.)
Rather than “listen” to me discuss Amok, immerse yourself in Yorke and company’s fascinating new work here (via NPR’s First Listen).
AND then take the time to hear them discuss HOW they made this record and what influenced them (again via NPR) here. (the image of the these guys playing pool and listening to Fela Kuti is just priceless. You’ll see.)
Back with more later,
p.s. for those at work, this is a perfect soundtrack to help focus and pass the time away. minimal vocal intrusions and maximum trance-inducing rhythms.