Generally (sweeping statement imminent) the quality of the output of previous 'Supergroups' has been, to varying degrees of negativity, less than the parts which constitute its make-up. There are notable exceptions to be fair; early examples including Crosby, Stills and Nash and Cream of course as well as more recently The Postal Service and Velvet Revolver, however, when it goes wrong, or at least awry, it taints the work of the protagonists involved. Asia, The Power Station, Mike & The Mechanics and The Travelling Willurys may have made a tidy packet from their collaborative ventures but when slotted in as part of their individual back catalogue it can often leave a bad taste.
Atoms For Peace may not have invited the Supergroup label but they most certainly qualify for the tag as their amassed ranks contain near, or actual, rock royalty. The question is then, is it all a rock stars playground adventure, a chance to hook up with other like-minded souls and have a lark or does the new Atoms For Peace album, 'Amok', deliver a musical majesty befitting the blue blooded artists that helped create it? Has a project that has been nurtured since its inception in 2009 finally delivered the promised fruit of its sporadic labours?
The quintet of Thom Yorke, Flea, Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco that make up Atoms For Peace are certainly enough to get the musical world into a lather. Musos the world over have been practically dribbling into their Green Tea Frappuccinos as they contemplate the limitless possibilities of such a creative fusion. Having been treated to such high calibre material as 'Judge, Jury and Executioner' from the very beginning, the weight of expectation was always going to be heavy and high.
The initial combination of Thom Yorke's unique near falsetto vocal, carnival flavoured guitar, terrific funky bass riff supporting the fuzzy stabbing synth sequences and some gentle percussive touches produce a suitably impressive and confident opener in 'Before Your Very Eyes'. Any anxiety about what could have been has been instantaneously dissipated through a heady mix of exotic rhythms and precise production. 'Default' tentatively edges itself forward with some off-set drum n' bass steals (used throughout Amok) until the introduction of swathes of seductive synth kick in.
The new single 'Ingenue' takes over with tropical tones of discreetness and subtlety. Thom's voice is sounding more emotive and soulful than ever and has a smoother more mannered feel to it. Here, and elsewhere on the nine track set, you can't help but be impressed by the inventiveness of the mix. Listening to all the intricacies and overwhelming amount of interesting and intriguing noises is a pure delight. Follow on track 'Dropped' has a more aggressive synth style and pacier bass line to accompany Thom's more alert vocal. There are some deft percussive touches and neat catchy loops making this one of the more immediate tracks on the album.
'Unless' starts with a more cinematic feel and builds beautifully as it picks up momentum to create an intoxicating atmosphere. Flea once again shows his pedigree on the infectious and funky 'Stuck Together Pieces' and on 'Reverse Running' Thom crafts a layered vocal treatment through a jazzy mix of percussive pleasure. Title track 'Amok' closes out the inaugural album with individual highlights from each of the five contributors showing just how well they have combined to produce such a rich sound.
'Amok' then is certainly no dud, no blot on the landscape for any of the stellar musicians that helped create it. It is a scintillating album of exquisitely crafted tracks. It lacks the intensity of a Radiohead album (not to say that it is by any means inferior) and as such is far easier to just enjoy without investing oodles of time. It has a cohesive chilled back and mellow charm to it but also has an ever present edge of menace that never quite reveals itself. The production on 'Amok' also feels rather more timeless than some of the more dateable work from the Chili Peppers, Beck or R.E.M and the whole album experience is a triumph of creative talent from start to finish. Long may their collaborative venture continue.
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