It had to happen eventually. Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke essentially continues his solo career under the moniker Atoms For Peace, gathering close friends for the band and taking the name from a track off his 2006 solo album The Eraser. The all-star group, consisting of Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and their touring percussionist Mauro Refosco, former Beck/R.E.M drummer Joey Waronker and longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, was initially gathered to perform songs off The Eraser live. After a few years of jamming together, they decided to record an original record, almost as a continuation of Radiohead’s turn towards electronica per 2011’s The King Of Limbs.
Yorke’s electronic experimentalism dominates Amok, the band’s debut. He supposedly crafted the songs on his laptop before teaching the band what to do, and the result is as inorganic as the process sounds. Amok is a puzzling move — there’s almost no resemblance to typical songwriting formats like verse/chorus/verse, and Yorke’s consolatory emotional falsettos per late Radiohead songs “Lotus Flower” or “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” are largely downplayed and replaced with peculiar wailings.
The songs are rendered largely inaccessible in their quest for avant-gardism. Opener “Before Your Very Eyes...” makes the listener arduously wait for three minutes before the band shows its true hand. Yorke’s ubiquitous moaning is oversaturated with reverb, to the extent of making any sort of lyrical intelligibility impossible. The fuzzy synthesizers backed by an incessant drum shuffle seem to continue through all of Amok’s unnecessary 47 minutes. The length of most songs is around five minutes, just long enough to hint at a musical climax that never comes.
Some songs like the single “Default,” and “Unless” show untapped potential that is subsequently smothered with confusing electronic samples and vocal loops. What should be catchy turns out to be discordant through overproduction. And then Amok ends on the title track, fading away as unsatisfactorily and mysteriously as it began.
With a lineup able to make any rock n’ roll fan jump out of their chair, one might have expected an enthralling debut. But Amok was crafted on a laptop, and maybe it should have stayed that way. The rock star names are just a publicity stunt. It is impossible to determine where Flea’s bass is real or when Yorke programs it. There is both a drummer and a percussionist credited in the band, yet the drums on every track sound like a drum machine. The result is a haphazard record that plays as an insincere spin-off of The King of Limbs, which could’ve been billed as a Thom Yorke solo project or a much less talented Flying Lotus.
Shout Out Louds' Optica
Artist: Shout Out Louds
Label: Merge Records
Songs to Download: "Sugar" "Hermilia"
The ‘80s are either still alive or have been resuscitated on Shout Out Louds’ Optica. The Swedish band exchanges its lo-fi sounds for disco balls and sparkling effects. There’s a heavy synth background on songs like “14th of July” that bears comparison to Chromatics. Indie ballads like “Chasing The Sinking Sun” are reminiscent of a Funeral-era Arcade Fire. The songs are expertly crafted in an upbeat mood, hiding the deeper, melancholic lyrics of frontman Adam Olenius.
Mount Moriah's Miracle Temple
Artist: Mount Moriah
Album: Miracle Temple
Label: Merge Records
Songs to Download: "I Built A Town" "Those Girls"
The cover art for Miracle Temple is a burning barn, which might represent how Mount Moriah is torching conceptions of country music. The neo country power trio draws heavy influences from Neil Young, but features Heather McEntire’s powerful female vocals and perspective. The band’s heavy use of blues guitar work is tastefully complimented with aspects of gospel, like on the standout heartbreaker “I Built A Town.”
Within the Ruins' Elite
Artist: Within the Ruins
Label: Victory Records
Songs to Download: "Feeding Frenzy" "Ataxia" "Elite"
Within The Ruins is one of contemporary metal’s only hopes in a genre of image and showboating. The Massachusetts band set the bar high after 2010’s Invade made listeners seriously question how many times signature switches were possible in one song, and the band continue its work on Elite, confirming its status as a more serious Dragonforce and a slightly less technical Periphery. The album’s lightning fast riffs downplay distorted guitar effects and instead focus on time changes and technicality.