Feb 27 2013: Does ‘Amok’ live up to expectations?

Originally published on El Estoque.

“Amok,” the product of four years of work, was released on Feb. 26. The group behind it consists of musicians from Radiohead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, R.E.M. and Beck. Source: XL Recordings.
“Amok,” the product of four years of work, was released on Feb. 26. The group behind it consists of musicians from Radiohead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, R.E.M. and Beck. Source: XL Recordings.

Mixed Reviews is a feature where we examine recently released songs and albums with perspectives from two different reporters. This week we listened to a highly anticipated album “Amok” from Atoms For Peace.

Yimeng’s take: Experimental, electronic, excellent

Before I start my review, a disclaimer is necessary: I don’t listen to electronic music. My tastes generally veer toward the simple, catchy and easy to understand. “Amok” is none of those things, but against my expectations, I’ve grown to appreciate the record after working past the confusion of the first listen.

It helps that all nine tracks are hypnotic and distinct — compelling in a manner almost religious, like a digital interpretation of gospel. This is achieved despite Atoms for Peace’s enigmatic style and barely discernable vocals. But even that got me thinking: what purpose do lyrics truly serve? After all, most popular songs are about love, pain and other cliché topics, meaningless or silly if read out loud. Even though I may not understand every word, it has not detracted from this album.

The best way to understand the album is to think of it not as a message or a story, but as a musical landscape. Unlike what you would do with most music, don’t listen so closely to what the vocalist is singing. Don’t try to pick apart the layers of instrumentals and electronic processing. Don’t anticipate that one chord progression will lead anywhere. Listen with the right-side hemisphere of your brain and trust that the intricate, chaotic series of notes will lead to an emotional payoff.

Despite throwing conventional elements out the window, “Amok” is a rare piece of music that is progressive, yet still easy to enjoy. It’s an experiment that pays off.

Thea’s take: Disappointing, Dry, Dull

When the lead singer of Radiohead, the bassist of Red Hot Chili Peppers, the drummer for Beck, and a New-York-based Brazilian percussionist collaborate to birth a supergroup called Atoms For Peace, one can’t be blamed for setting his or her analytical bar high and expecting an instant classic. The initial creation of experimental rock band Atoms For Peace found me an excited, potential fanatic, but the release  of their first album was ultimately a disappointment.

The nine tracks on Amok each retain a funky, ethnic afrobeat vibe, but fail to present memorable songs. And while an overarching theme can be an element of a well-made album, the rhythms and pulses of Amok’s tracks seem repetitive and recycled.

The songs themselves produce a sublime, aesthetically pleasing sound, and skillfully employ the technique of swapping what are traditionally the foreground and background of the song. This is done by accentuating the underlying rhythm and beat of the songs, while de-emphasizing the lyrical aspect of the song (the vocals of Amok’s tracks are often indistinguishable and slurred).

These techniques, however, don’t push the envelope far enough. Atoms For Peace’s likeness to Radiohead is derivative rather than fascinating; by reusing the style and sound of Radiohead, lead singer Thom Yorke has created a meek imitation of his internationally famous band.


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