by Matt De Mello
When I saw Ultraista a few months back at the Independent I was struck by Laura Bettinson’s beauty first off, but after a while the thing that I noticed was Nigel Godrich pulling the strings like a puppet master. The so-called 5th member of Radiohead is an electronic genius and has produced some of Radiohead’s finest albums. Godrich is comfortable in the background. He enjoys being the purveyor of sound and a conduit to making others’ sound more pleasant to the ear.
In Atoms For Peace however, he is joined by such rock icons as Thom Yorke, Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Joey Waronker from Ultraista and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco. Amok, their debut album is a hodgepodge of different, unconventional sounds that come together to form a perfect, harmonious union. The percussion is amazing while kind of all over the place in a disorienting way that makes the senses want to pay attention and yet, the drumming is fantastic, but it isn’t the normal drumming style of a drummer. This has more than just a keeping time element to it. Waronker and Refosco are almost battling percussionists back there as they battle their way through the underbelly of the songs.
The bass is a drastic departure from Flea’s normal funk heavy slap style of the Chili Peppers. Here is more subdued and more confined. He is more the standard bassist in this conflagration than in his normal setting. Godrich is synthing his way into legendary status. He plays the guitar sparingly and that is one of the things that sets this band apart from Radiohead. Johnny Greenwood destroys anything his path with his ferocious effort son the guitar and yet the guitar is such a minor part of Atoms. It’s almost insignificant to the sound which is socialist in nature. Everything is for the good of the unit as a whole.
Yorke flutters his way in and out of songs without constraining himself to the verse chorus verse structure that is so commonplace. Here he makes strides to use his voice as an instrument of the song, not commandeering the instruments but melding with them. He is becoming a part of the song without making himself the focus. He allows the idiosyncratic beats to gauge when to start and stop, when to let himself be the focal point and when to merely hum his way through a few notes.
Amok is anything but normal. It is experimentation that sets out to change the way music sounds. Whether or not people are ready is inconsequential. This is a magnificent album, the likes of which have not been seen since jazz was in its heyday. This is essentially an Isao Tomita album, heavy on the synth with a dreamlike feel to much of it and heavy on sounds of the experimental nature. This is not a typical rock album and if you’re expecting heavy guitars or thick bass lines you’ll be sorely disappointed. This is undefinable, it is just simply music and it’s about time someone made music again.
If you would like to stream the album in its entirety go here.
Amok is out February 26th.