From the opening notes, it is abundantly clear that Amok is Thom Yorke’s handiwork. Radiohead’s front man imbues whatever tracks he touches with a dark, jittery aesthetic. Amok, which is Yorke’s latest endeavor (along with the rest of the Atoms for Peace supergroup featuring Nigel Godrich, Flea, Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco) is characteristic in this manner. While this album doesn’t push the envelope in the way that, say, Kid A, did, it is still an enormously impressive and sonically interesting record.
Lyrically, Amok is fairly typical for Radiohead's front man, as songs are built around a number of ominous non sequiturs that serve to construct a mood (and a dark one at that) more than a specific narrative. Amok isn’t heavy on hooks, but it’s certainly evocative and powerful. Highlights include album opener “Before Your Very Eyes,” where Yorke croons eerily over a crunchy synth line, and early single “Default,” whose shadowy, meticulous drum loops ground the track.
It’s important, in approaching Amok, to recognize its relationship to Yorke’s solo work, collected on The Eraser. Atoms for Peace was born out of the (excellent) live shows in 2010 featuring The Eraser’s material, and while the band’s sound has grown and evolved considerably, Yorke’s writing has remained remarkably consistent. The songwriting and general direction of Amok are the clear result of what The Eraser started. The ideas are just better-articulated as a result of the expanded lineup.
Yorke seems to be settling into a post-In Rainbows groove featuring shuddering drum loops, antsy bass lines, and falsetto vocals. We’re a long way from “Fake Plastic Trees”-era Radiohead here. But whether or not Amok is your cup of tea, it is sobering to realize just how much some of these performers--Yorke in particular--have evolved artistically. Very few musicians have this many good ideas. Always one step ahead of the game, it seems, Amok finds Yorke and company still pushing to refine and advance their sound--and the result is largely successful.