Amok, the debut album from Thom Yorke’s “supergroup” of Flea, Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker, and Mauro Refosco, has achieved the Holy Grail of electronic music: artistic realization and listenability.
“One of the things we were most excited about was ending up with a record where you weren’t quite sure where the human starts and the machine ends,” Yorke has said, and indeed Amok is both precise and warm.
The album was conceived of a shared appreciation of Afrobeat; apparently the recording process involved getting wasted at Flea’s place and listening to Fela Kuti. You can hear the influence on “Stuck Together Pieces”, which takes its bass line directly from Kuti’s playbook, and the quickstepping drum beat of “Before Your Very Eyes”.
Flea is uncharacteristically downplayed, taking a back seat to Yorke and Godrich’s laptops and synthesizers. He does, however, stand out on tracks such as “Judge, Jury and Executioner” and “Amok”, but even here he is content to be the brilliant but refined jazz bassist, quietly weaving between layers of percussion and Yorke’s soft yowling.
Don’t expect many standout moments, as they are few. Amok is a thoughtful exploration of the talents of its players, the product of a band that can relax into the studio and isn’t trying to impress anyone. Maybe on the next album we’ll hear grander moments of rock riffing, but for now we must settle for the intellectual musings of five guys drunk and listening to Fela.