Released: February 25, 2013
I have a hard time writing this review objectively. I have a longstanding and sometimes irrational bias in favor of the music of Thom Yorke & friends. As of January 1, 2013, Amok was the album I was most looking forward to in the new year. Since its release, I’ve spent a lot of time with this rather curious collection of 9 tracks on repeat trying to make sense of it all.
First, Amok bares a striking resemble to Thom Yorke’s solo debut album The Eraser. Both are filled polyrhythmic beats, stark vocals and a heavy use of electronic leads and textures. Even Stanley Donwood’s busy black and white artwork on both album covers makes Amok seem more like a sequel and less like a new venture. This is not necessarily an unfavorable connection, but its not a glowing endorsement either. I was hoping for a new sound and a new direction, especially with Flea in the mix. What we got was an album that sounds and looks just like The Eraser 2.
However, some of the tracks are truly astounding. Even though “Default” was technically the first single, “Ingenue” is the real stand out track from the album. Its a synthy bass driven track that features the albums most honest and beautiful vocal performance from Thom Yorke. The disjointed melody of “Ingenue” paired with Yorke’s falsetto makes for a song that stands up with anything he’s ever written. Also, the video is weird in all the right ways. The album opener “Right Before Your Eyes” is an impressively dynamic song that switches between gritty synthesizer riffs and guitar rhythms and builds along side a haunting vocal performance from Mr. Yorke. “Dropped” is another very solid song, starting out with a beat machine and synths before exploding into Flea’s most powerful baseline on the album. While the album often seems to take itself pretty seriously, “Stuck Together Pieces” is a surprisingly groovy track that is one of the few that prominently features a Flea bass line.
Amok is an album I will probably continue to keep it in rotation for a while. Even when Thom Yorke isn’t on his A game, he is still capable of creating some truly amazon tunes. After all there really isn’t a bad track in the set, but only a few songs really stand out on their own. I was excited to hear some more impressive bass work from Flea but his baselines are rarely featured in the foreground. I think considering his immense skill, Flea was an underutilized resource. Maybe I had unrealistic expectations, but I was hoping for a radical progression and Amok is an incremental update on a familiar style. Still the album is compact, intriguing and enjoyable and “Ingenue” is a serious contender for song of the year.
Top Tracks: “Ingenue”, “Dropped”, “Right Before Your Eyes”
One more time with this “Ingenue” video:
i second this. although i feel like it’s less of an Eraser sequel and more of a revamping of its intent. i know Eraser was a little garage band project, but it sooouunded like it, often tinny and lacking real depth (or balls). either way, Amok seems to be what would have happened if his solo works were a studio project from the get-go. Amok therefore might not be Eraser 2, but rather, Eraser 2.0. or Eraser was Amok’s beta. or i just need sleep.
sidenote: don’t start a band with Flea if Flea isn’t going to be Flea. y’know ? when “Thom Yorke????” played Coachella in 2010, it was Flea’s pop-whacking bass that really brought Harrowdown Hill to life. haven’t seen Flea-like contributions in AFP since..