Atoms For Peace: Thom Yorke's Electronic Shadow-World

Feb 28, 2013
Originally published on February 28, 2013 6:44 pm

When singer Thom Yorke stepped away from his influential rock band Radiohead in 2006 to release The Eraser, many thought the quirky electronic project was a one-off. Not so, it turns out. Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich called on rock-star friends for a tour, and since then, the group has convened occasionally in the studio. Now known as Atoms For Peace, the band has a new album, entitled Amok. It presents Yorke in a dizzying new context.

Inside the famously fevered head of Yorke, the ghosts and phantoms are still working overtime. Another album, another panicked Thom Yorke account of the fast disintegrating social fabric. You don't need to know the title of "Judge Jury and Executioner" to sense the Kafka-like horror Yorke feels as he watches people — Internet zombies really — turn snap judgments into unshakable beliefs.

Yorke sounds as rattled and woeful as he does when fronting Radiohead, with some bonus raving-lunatic muttering thrown in for dramatic effect. The setting, though, is much different — Radiohead's majestic grandeur is replaced by slicing, almost spastic rhythms. It's glitchy, unsettled stuff: electronic dance music as hacked by free-jazz revolutionaries.

Some will dismiss Atoms For Peace as nothing more than Radiohead with machines. That's inevitable because Yorke has such a distinct identity as a singer. Much more significant are the ways the new band reworks some of Radiohead's core musical ideas: those marathon expanses of tension, the unorthodox ear-stretching chords that are never fully consonant or dissonant. Dropping these devices into sleek, elaborately tech-y rhythm schemes, Atoms For Peace gives the phantoms inside Yorke's head a whole new shadow-world to explore.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now, we take a break from coverage of war to hear about new music from a group called Atoms For Peace. It's the latest side project from Thom Yorke of the influential band Radiohead. Critic Tom Moon says the new album from Atoms For Peace presents Yorke in a new context.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Inside the famously fevered head of Thom Yorke, the ghosts and phantoms are still working overtime.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUDGE, JURY AND EXECUTIONER")

MOON: Another album, another panicked Thom Yorke account of the fast disintegrating social fabric. This song is called "Judge, Jury and Executioner." But you don't need to know the title to sense the Kafkaesque horror that Yorke feels as he watches people, Internet zombies really, turn snap judgments into unshakable beliefs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JUDGE, JURY AND EXECUTIONER")

MOON: Yorke sounds as rattled and woeful as he does when fronting Radiohead, with some bonus raving lunatic muttering thrown in for dramatic effect. The setting, though, is much different. Radiohead's majestic grandeur is replaced by slicing, almost spastic rhythms. It's glitchy, unsettled stuff. Electronic dance music as hacked by free-jazz revolutionaries.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNLESS")

MOON: At the center of this project are unusual sonic contrasts. Listen to the way this lovely lone-tone melody arches over the anxious stutter of the rhythm.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES")

MOON: Some will dismiss Atoms For Peace as nothing more than Radiohead with machines. That's inevitable because Yorke has such a distinct identity as a singer. But what's much more significant are the ways the new band reworks some of Radiohead's core musical ideas: those long expanses of tension, the unorthodox ear-stretching chords that are never fully consonant or dissonant. By dropping these devices into sleek, elaborately techy rhythms, Atoms For Peace gives the phantoms inside Thom Yorke's head a whole new shadow world to explore.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEFAULT")

CORNISH: The new album by Atoms For Peace is called "Amok." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.