Atoms for Peace
Thom Yorke shatters already-high expectations.
When I first heard Thom Yorke's solo album The Eraser—when it was released in 2006—it sounded like a mess. Spacey electronic beats seemed to meander aimlessly, without any memorable vocal patterns to bring them to life. But then again, the same thing happened the first time I heard Radiohead's Kid A or Tool's 10,000 Days. In each case, it took a while to let what they were doing sink in, make sense, take on that unique and beautiful life form. So it goes with innovative art. After a while Thom's album made it into my listening cycle with more and more frequency. Yet however much those songs grew on me, nothing compares to seeing them played live.
Four years after releasing The Eraser, Thom decided to take his solo project on the road, playing under the name Atoms for Peace. Longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich plays keyboards and guitar, and the low end is filled out by Flea on bass, Joey Waronker on drums and Mauro Refosco on percussion. These songs enter a whole 'nother universe with real musicians playing them. The low end is powerful and unrelenting, pushing the rhythms into a twisted alien rumble. And when all the elements bleed together into a neon electrified jungle, they create something that is hard to describe or completely comprehend. The band works the music into a frenzy, then takes it further, then takes it further, then takes it further. It is at once beautiful and rocking and tripped out. When a song ends and the lights stop their feverish pulsing, you will feel like you're being snapped out of a trance.
Before kicking off a short U.S. tour with a double night at New York's Roseland Ballroom on April 5th and 6th, the band had never played outside of Los Angeles. "Thom created these songs on laptops," said Flea. "To play them live, on an instrument, is a challenge." But if Atoms for Peace is playing at this elevated a level already, it's scary to think what they might accomplish in the near future. At the Roseland, they were already debuting songs that aren't on "The Eraser," and they say they have been developing ideas for new material. Watching Thom dance his ass off on stage when he wasn't playing an instrument, you can be sure he's at least enjoying the ride.
If it seems to some like Thom Yorke has been given carte blanche at this point, that's only because he continues to push the envelope, delivering music that is both evolutionary and revolutionary. Most of the acts that blew up in the 90s at the same time as Radiohead are not around anymore, simply because they failed to evolve. Billy Corgan once ruled the rock world and has since vanished into nothing. Trent Reznor has not released a great record in this millennium. The list is a long one. But Thom Yorke and his bandmates--which now refers to not one but two impressive lineups--have proven that they will reinvent the wheel as many times as it takes. And when the wheel has run its course, you can be sure they'll move on to teleporting.