Hail To The Thief has, to my ears, always seemed to stand as Radiohead’s most expressive, and thereby successful work. It’s an opinion I think few uphold, though one I stand by staunchly. Unerringly, even. By that same decree, I’ve always perceived Where I End and You Begin (The Sky Is Falling In) to be their most convincing composition: those modulated, almost grimacing synths; the violently thrashed snares; the awry vocal and the ensuing sirens which sound as though they’re hounding Thom Yorke until death do him part and they do indeed eat him alive. It’s visceral; eruptive as a viciously ruptured internal organ. And subsequently, I’ve always heard it as something of a blueprint for Yorke’s every solo endeavour.
Three years, one month and two days on from the release of said record, he etched his lone début into his somewhat biblical discography in the glitchy, schizophrenic form of The Eraser and now six years, seven months and sixteen days later, he releases AMOK. The in turn supposed début of ostensible supergroup Atoms for Peace, make no mistake: this is, to all extensive purposes, Yorke’s sophomore solo record and though divergent at first, with repeated exposure the parallels between works one and two begin to pencil themselves in with the stark relief of yet another Stanley Donwood etching.
For his only accomplice for much of The Eraser was Radiohead’s longstanding engineer Nigel Godrich – he behind the knobs of their every record post-Pablo Honey, as well as revered pieces from the likes of Pavement, Sparks, Beck and Natalie Imbruglia of all artists, amongst frequently lionised others. He here fulfils the duties of chief producer and key programmer and, first and foremost, it ought to be affirmed that he does an absolutely sterling job all round. Journeyman rhythmists Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco, and perennially irksome Red Hot Chili Pepper Flea complete the makeup of Atoms for Peace although again, don’t allow yourself to be taken amiss, for AMOK has Yorke’s grubby prints all over it. So nuclear to the project in sum and substance is he that the involvement of his every crony pales into insignificance, and so much so that their collaboration in fact seems more furtive collusion, as it is only infrequently even discernible. The drips and glitches that formulate the rhythmic backdrop into which the work is stitched are about as organic as the polycarbonate plastic compound the album itself has been impressed upon however many innumerable times ahead of its release this week, while its nigh on every bass line is commensurately synthetic in aesthetic. This is Yorke prescribing electronica to tend to his wearied mind and consequently re-scribing The Eraser, though he does so to invigorating effect.
And whereas we may perhaps expect a more introspective work while he is, at least for the moment, apparently operating more or less alone (he composed its majority in solitude on his laptop, before taking it to anyone) AMOK is quite the antithesis of this, for proof of which we’d advocate the experiencing of the point at which the chorus to Default veritably blooms. Yorke has never been one to confine to expectation however, and it’s a line from this that sticks: “The will is strong, but the flesh is weak/ I’ve made my bed; I’ll lie in it” he wryly sighs, resigned to his fate as one of the greatest songsmiths Britain has yet boasted, and the sort to front a few sold out O2 Arena shows every now and then. As such, one senses that the tone adopted for AMOK (and indeed The Eraser before it) is that which best reflects the enigma tightly twined behind the squinted eyelids.
This particular record serves as a self-gratifying satiation of his burgeoning predilection for the entrancing propensities of techno, yes, but it is so too grossly satisfying for the listener – whether casual, or measuredly concentrated. And this side of Codex – the jewel in The King Of Limbs’ crown – herein lies some of his finest contemporary work: the menacing, yet still somehow melancholy sewer-like womp of the swampy Ingenue, or the brisk skittering of Before Your Very Eyes… during which Yorke again turns all pensive and disapproving, as he intones with a prickly disdain: “Look out of the window/ What’s passing you by.” Increasingly, AMOK can be assimilated to an album of realisation that serves to emancipate its author, and enlighten its audience. It’s the sound of Thom taking his unfalteringly experimental approach to places he can autocratically determine, and succeeding in seemingly enjoying himself over the journey.
There’s an intimacy deeply rooted within Dropped of which his almost every previous can be found lacking, as it’s as though an opalescent reflection of the self trilling dulcet nothings through the thick fug of self-made condensation stuck to the inside of a dulled train window. There is a creeping majesty to it, but it’s masterfully repressed to allow for the chugging of its glacial chunks of synth to predominate. Unless then begins as though a nihilistic, if somewhat petulant condemnation of all romance: “Care less/ I couldn’t care less/ Such a mess/ I know it’s useless” he repeatedly avows as though attempting to convince even he himself of the futilities of love. This dispassion for all forms of emotion has long since stood as a fundamental trope of his songwriting technique though again, he here contradicts slights once slurred as he self-proclaims: “I am hope/ I can break this/ I am rust/ I am waiting.” And as such, the record comes to signify something which is evolutionary on both a professional, and perhaps so too a more personal level. It’s all pretty dislocated from any dam-busting watershed moments, though it comes closer than most.
The insistently clapped stamp of Judge, Jury And Executioner, whilst faintly redolent of 15 Step rhythmically, lyrically hinges about the recurring refrain of “Don’t worry, baby/ It goes right through me/ I’m like the wind and my anger will disperse” as he reassumes his default MO of guarded disillusionment, dusty spaghetti western guitars ringing around the background all the while. Though it’s when he comes to dispel all love and affection altogether – as he so sullenly does on the mesial piece of this collagist’s stupor of a collection, Stuck Together Pieces – that he convincingly vanquishes all apprehension. “Our stuck together pieces/ The joke is I don’t need this” he begins, before going on to belittle all enduring rapports as “grown up together pieces/ Our stuck together pieces/ A load of near misses”, bitter pangs of resentment jabbing at his acidic lyrics. “You don’t get away so easily” its persisting message, it’s an earworm alright and one which is difficult to rid yourself of once allowed to burrow deep within.
Whether or not this is the sound of Yorke coming unstuck may not be totally immaterial, though when there’s so much positivity of which to speak his elegiac musings become that little bit inconsequential – selfish as it may seem to go saying so. His lyricisms should rarely be read as they appear anyway I would contend, though there are no false pretences over this being a direct replication of his primary objective: to stimulate; to stretch our perceptions of both him and his work; and above all to stifle any second-guesses, or lingering misgivings we may have of him. The internet has been run AMOK by this release, and quite rightly so for it is to Yorke what In Rainbows was for Radiohead. The renaissance is now, and long may it continue.
Released: February 25th, 2013 [XL Recordings]