On AMOK, Thom Yorke's Atoms For Peace Embrace Big, Scary Technology
Recently, science fiction has crept into the news. The FDA just approved the first bionic eye, which will reverse certain types of blindness. At last year's Usenix Security Conference, researchers displayed how the human brain could now essentially be hacked with devices that read brain patterns, identifying when it recognizes sensitive information like PIN numbers. In Scotland, scientists claim to have used 3D printers to create stem cells, aiming to eventually print whole organs. These are the people out on the digital frontier, seeking to make humans better by design.
Such headlines are fitting precursors to the release of AMOK, the debut record from Thom Yorke's new-ish band Atoms for Peace. Originally assembled to back the Radiohead frontman while he toured his solo record The Eraser, the band--comprised of Nigel Godrich (Radiohead's "sixth member" and producer), Flea, Joey Waronker (Beck, REM), and percussionist Mauro Refosco--got along so well they decided to cut their own album. The band jammed intensively for three days, and Yorke and Godrich then cut and edited AMOK into existence from these sessions, compressing the spontaneity of human performance into tightly rhythmic electronic music. As Yorke told Rolling Stone late last year: "One of the things we were most excited about was ending up with a record where you weren't quite sure where the human starts and the machine ends." Sort of not unlike receiving a new organ someone printed for you.
It's a far cry from the Yorke of 2000. The electronic experimentation of Kid A was paradoxical, layering human and mechanical elements as Yorke's lyrics explored an alienation from ourselves in the digital era. But Yorke eventually mellowed, getting interested in DJing and dance music as a whole, not just the cerebral glitch electronica and trip-hop that initially fascinated Radiohead. The band's 2011 album The King of Limbs marked the beginning of the process that has bloomed on AMOK. Radiohead constructed those songs by playing their parts and looping them together, thus achieving its claustrophobic, persistent rhythms. With Atoms for Peace, it seems Yorke and Godrich want to go further: not taking live playing and making it sound electronic, but to take live playing and electronic sounds and smear them together until the boundaries between human and machine on AMOK ceased to exist. Essentially, Yorke and Godrich are chasing after the very developments Kid A was so paranoid about. While they didn't quite obliterate that line, the final product is notable. This is the most consistently warm and dance-able music Yorke has been involved in.
See also: The 10 Best Thom Yorke Dancing Videos