After much anticipation, the music world at large will finally get its hands on Amok, one of the more anticipated releases among audiophiles. It makes sense — Flea, the star bassist of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame, decided to join Radiohead’s Thom Yorke for a new project, a fusion of two of music’s most creative minds. Add in drummer Joey Waronker, who has backed both Beck and R.E.M., and the industry had another bona fide supergroup on its hands.


Atoms for Peace

In fact, the first song “Before Your Very Eyes” brings an air of hope that this isn’t just what you’d expect. There’s not only Yorke’s signature soaring voice and technical beat (a simple, crisp hi-hat coupled with punctual snares), but also an electric, funky guitar that screams Chili Peppers. And even though Thom’s just being Thom like he usually does, there’s a tension that reverberates, increasingly more as the synths take root and grow throughout the track.

But then, after just the one piece of optimism, the upcoming “Default” dashes it away. The song itself isn’t actually a failure — the mechanical percussion and uplifting chorus counteract what’s an otherwise awkward melody. But there’s no sense that this is Atoms for Peace; it would fit perfectly into Yorke’s self-released The Eraser.

Ultimately, that’s the fear with Amok. At times, the collaboration seems to bear tangible fruit, like in “Ingenue,” where dark, deep, buzzing notes are interrupted with what can only be described as an instrumentalized water droplet, the ideal backbeat for a rave in some system of caverns. And likewise in “Dropped,” a charged, incessant core progresses the song forward, especially as it evolves into the backbone of a bassline, upon which Yorke builds a heaping mountain of clicking and whirring effects.

But can anyone argue that Yorke doesn’t have that narcissistic Midas touch — that anything he touches largely becomes his? Radiohead tends to turn into Yorke and Radiohead as his solo album proved was the case, and the same problem persists here — we might as well be listening to Yorke and the Atoms for Peace. For instance, the song “Unless” actually seems retrofitted to equip a Flea bass medley and would otherwise be a perfectly serviceable Yorke track.

Yet, even with such a nagging worry, Amok can still be candy for the ears. Yorke is a seasoned veteran at establishing mood and carefully constructing complex layers of effects, meaning and catchiness. It’s not the kind of album you pump in the stereo on an energetic Thursday night, nor the stuff you play to your friends before class. And, aside from maybe “Dropped” and the lead single “Judge, Jury and Executioner,” there aren’t any go-to hits to make a brisk walk between classes seem a little shorter.

Because, in the end, Amok has the soul of a homework album, plain and simple. It’s deep, brooding and too intricate to grasp with even the first few listen-throughs. But, if you keep it in your background rotation for those long nights of midnight-oil essay-writing, you’ll start finding yourself humming along or tapping a pencil as a burst of synths bounces off of a vibrating back-beat. And eventually, you’ll realize that Yorke sure as hell knows how to put together an album — regardless of who plays the instruments around him.

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