Tag Archives: radiohead

Atoms for Peace: AMOK


AMOK Atoms for PeaceThis record has been a long time coming. Atoms for Peace initially began when (Radiohead’s) Thom Yorke took his solo record on tour. The band’s sound adopted a good deal from Yorke’s solo album THE ERASER: it’s sometimes paranoid, sometimes jittery, sometimes claustrophobic. If Yorke’s name wasn’t enough, Atoms for Peace sure has the pedigree of a great band: (The Red Hot Chili Peppers’) Flea commands the bass, (Ultraista and Radiohead’s producer) Nigel Godrich plays guitar, (Ultraista and Beck) drummer Joey Waronker provides half of the percussion with Mauro Refosco laying down most of the electronic beats. The band’s music is an interesting mix of electronic and material music, a nd it is often hard to tell where the real percussion stops and the electronic percussion begins.

Some of this material is pretty old, and band members have hinted that they have been sitting on it for a while now before its release. “Judge, Jury, and Executioner” was debuted in 2009 (it shares no relation with the similar Radiohead song). AMOK was created within a handful of days – the writing process for the band started with all musicians in the studio, free-form jamming without creating “takes” or stopping. Afterwards, the hours of material that they created was gleaned through, and the members picked out parts they thought were particularly interesting or beautiful. This makes for a great academic exercise, but what about a great music-listening experience?

The problem with AMOK is also its strength. The album is concerned primarily with being interesting: achieving new sounds, creating strange transitions, using instrumentation in different ways. The chief concern here is not the listener. Many of these songs are pleasant, but they often lack the melody that will keep you coming back for more. It reminds me a good deal of Radiohead’s last record, THE KING OF LIMBS, which was often jittery and songs sometimes lacked a clear throughline. Now, of course, all music doesn’t need to be a verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus traditional song, but the real joy of AMOK comes from approaching the music in a cerebral way. This isn’t good background music, but it is good music to find yourself in if you’re willing to. If you are a listener that appreciates the way music is put together, there’s a lot on this record that you may find of intrigue.

It’s hard not to compare this Atoms for Peace record in the grand scale of Radiohead/Thom Yorke projects – in many ways, it is truly its own beast. Even though there will be plenty of sounds that you’ve heard before in past records, there’s enough new stuff here to keep listeners guessing and interested. The album opens with “Before Your Very Eyes,” and it’s a perfect example of what listeners are in for: the song begins with a shaky guitar-riff that twists and turns into an electronic sound, and it’s heard to distinguish when one sound ceases and another begins – there’s so much going on, so many layers, that you can pick up on new pieces with each listen. “Dropped” gives a stuttering synth that opens up over Mauro Refosco’s percussion. “Unless” sounds like a cut from Yorke’s THE ERASER. Some songs never really quite congeal: “Reverse Running,” “Judge, Jury, and Executioner,” and “Ingenue” generally stick with a musical idea throughout their duration, but they seem to be AMOK’s weakest tracks.

Overall, AMOK didn’t hit all of the right spots for me. It’s a good record, and it’s definitely worth a listen, but it’s hard for me to believe that someone would opt for this over Flying Lotus, or other Radiohead albums. If you’re looking for a good electronic band inspired by Afrobeat, I would recommend Joey Waronker & Nigel Godrich’s other band, Ultraista. Ultraista is a bit more accessible, and a bit more poppy; it may not be as interesting, but it’s a more enjoyable record for my money.

Songs to sample/download: “Default”, “Before Your Very Eyes”, “Stuck Together Pieces.”

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Grizzly Bear: SHIELDS

2009’s VECKATIMEST is a fantastic album, and it ranks among one of the best albums recorded in the past ten years. Grizzly Bear’s second studio album is as finely crafted and poured over as anything available on the indie-rock market. Maybe it’s the album’s attention to detail; maybe it’s the sincerity the band expressed through the lyrics; maybe it’s the melodies and soaring harmonies; whatever it is, VECKATIMEST is undoubtedly a hard album to follow up. If you haven’t heard the album yet, you really owe it to yourself to stop reading now and check out this previous album. Aside from it being a completely refreshing listen, this album will inform much of the band’s fourth full-length album SHIELDS.

After touring for VECKATIMEST, Grizzly Bear took a 3-year hiatus from making music together to explore their own divergent musical tastes. While SHIELDS is definitely a Grizzly Bear record, it uses a much more varied and scattered approach than the intricate VECKATIMEST. There are moments on SHIELDS that reach out into unexplored territory for the band: psychedelic rock, atmospheric minimalism, and synthesizers. If their previous album was a meticulous exercise in tightly-wound control, this album is a more instinctual and gritty affair.

The opening track, “Sleeping Ute,” makes no attempt to hide the band’s less-polished features. The guitar riff that carries the song is a bit jarring: using a non-standard time signature, it sounds good but feels disorienting. The same frenetic acoustics of “Southern Point” appear on SHIELDS’ second track, “Speaking in Rounds.” Things take a turn for the poppier with “Yet Again,” and “A Simple Answer;” the latter song begins not unlike another well-crafted pop tune, but by the 4-minute mark, the song is completely ditched for a new direction. The remaining two minutes of this song, after abandoning the pop-tune melody, the song changes considerably to a more downbeat, moody course. Between these two songs, the minimalist “The Hunt” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Radiohead record (particuarly on IN RAINBOWS); it’s sparse instrumentation (and inclusion of clarinet?) make this song excellent. The brief interlude “Adelma” is a subterranean and submerged atmospheric exercise – it’s a completely unexpected moment on SHIELDS, and one that I wouldn’t have predicted for Grizzly Bear. The same eerie minimalism is repeated in the outro of the excellent “What’s Wrong.” There’s a groove on “gun-shy” that Grizzly Bear haven’t quite experimented with yet – it’s a smoky and sexy tone, and it slowly comes together to form one of the more accessible tracks on the record. The album ends with “Sun in Your Eyes,” a song that isn’t scared to let a few notes of silence ring out — these moments of silence aren’t annoying or jarring, they come at just the right moment, making the song a wistful, quietly beautiful piece. The ending, complete with harmonies, pounding organs, and distorted bass finds the band ripping loose for the album’s finale.

Make no mistake, SHIELDS is a great record, but it doesn’t have the same “mainstream appeal” that VECKATIMEST had – there’s no potential crossover hits like “While You Wait for the Others” or “Two Weeks.” Instead, this album is chock full of great songs that work best in the cohesion of the album’s entirety. For this reason, this record might be a little less friendly to new listeners (not that that is necessarily a bad thing). I would recommend listeners who have not listened to Grizzly Bear to start with their third album before moving onto this one: VECKATIMEST is a much more accessible and immediate album than SHIELDS, thanks to the support of the aforementioned singles and less scattered direction.

What I like about all of this is that this album doesn’t try to one-up the previous record. Instead, the band tried to do something a bit different – much of what made VECKATIMEST great is represented here, but there’s enough changed and tinkered with that this album is hard to draw complete comparisons to. This album is a must-listen for fans of Grizzly Bear, and it’s a more-than-worthy addition to a band with an extraordinary (but young) catalog. Essential tracks to sample/download: “Sleeping Ute,” “A Simple Answer,” and “gun-shy.”

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