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Atoms For Peace – AMOK
Label: XL Recordings – XLLP583
Format: CD, Vinyl, Download
Released: 25 February 2013
Genre: Electronic, Rock
Back in 2009 a group started to appear on the US live scene posters with an unusual name, that being ?????? or sometimes something that might give the fans more of a clue to who they were about the see, Thom Yorke???? Though that latter title really isn’t the whole picture as this isn’t a Thom Yorke solo album, its a collaboration between Thom, Flea of Red Hot Chilli Peppers fame, Radiohead producer Nigel Goodrich, Beck & R.E.M drummer, Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco a Brazilian Instrumentalist. And with that lineup of course the press are labeling AFP a supergroup, though the formation of the group doesn’t really have that grand a billing, they came together after one heady night in LA where the guys found out about a mutual love of Afrobeat, which to the uninitiated is an African fusion of Jazz, Funk,Yaruba music with chanted vocals backed by intense complex rhythms, originating in the 1970’s, which was popularised by Wam bakeoff favorite, Fela Kuti.
The name for the band is taken from a 1953 speech by Dwight D Eisenhower on nuclear power and was also a major 1950’s propaganda campaign on the risks and hopes of a nuclear future. On the bands website the title of the group is accompanied by the Cornish phrase “Nerth Nuclerek? Na Vynnav” which translates to “Nuclear Power? No Thanks” its also a track on Thom Yorke’s debut solo effort The Eraser.
To anyone who has followed Radiohead’s musical trajectory over the past decade would be very unsurprised to find AMOK being in similar electronic territory with Post Rock overtones. The 9 tracks that make up AMOK are definitely 9 crafted songs but the backing is skittering Dubstep drums, deep languid basslines, scraping, cracking, static electronics with synth washes and melodies, all this while Thom’s unmistakable high pitched musings float in and out of all the texture and colour. Now after that explanation you might be thinking this is a soulless electronic experiment but fear not these guys put all this together with, for Thom Yorke anyway, a tuneful upbeat sound and with the crisp production the album removes itself from the darker more intense sound of the last few Radiohead releases.
So what about Fela Kuti and the Afrobeat massive? well on opener “Before Your Very Eyes” there’s a classic Afrobeat guitar sound dead centre with the aforementioned electronic drums skittering away in the background, this classic guitar sound pops up in a few other tracks as well. Now I did call the drums Dubstep styled but I imagine these are just classic Afrobeat rhythms re-interpreted in electronic form, I can also hear some acoustic drums here and there and many of the electronic drums could be well be played live. AMOK then moves heavily into Electronic IDM territory with the second track “Default” reminiscent of IDM pioneers Boards Of Canada, of course this is with added vocals and a more dense rhythm section you would expect of an album inspired by the African Afrobeat scene.
This dense rhythmic based sound moves through the album with an infectious pulling akin to all the best Electronic albums from Autechre to Massive Attack to Deepchord but what separates this release is of course the Afrobeat but also a Post Rock styled mood building, a trait that Radiohead have been exploring over the past few albums, a marriage of the crisp textured electronics with strong Rock emotional flavourings which are heard very apperently on the track “Unless” a track that builds with feeling and complex melodies throughout. Though again don’t be fooled into thinking this is just an extension of Thom’s Radiohead pesona as on “Stuck Together Pieces” the strong Afrobeat influence is back and as upbeat and uplifting as any a Fela Kuti track is with Flea’s pulsating Bass driving the track on and on and on and on.
So with AMOK the band brings us a modern re-imagining of classic Afrobeat rhythms meshed with modern IDM electronica all topped off with a penetrating Post Rock atmospheric and emotional element that creeps through all 9 finely astute tracks, this made by experienced musicians with a common love of 70’s African party music. The album is rather short by today’s standards at just over 45 minutes and thats a good thing as the tracks on here are focused and fully realised, they are complete entities on their own but when put together they complete a whole that is a very satisfying musical listen. I’ve probably been a little biased here being a fan of Electronic music, Radiohead and Post Rock and couple that with an interest in exotic music genres, Afrobeat being one of them, but even so its still an accomplishment to bring all those influences and styles together like Atoms For Peace have that I can only say to readers not versed in the more leftfield musical genres, give AMOK a go as you’ll never know it might open up a world of music you never knew existed.
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I knew nothing of this artist before this arrived for review, just a vague feeling I had listened to something by him on Spotify once.