February 21st, 2013 1:09pm

For A Time I Felt Completely Free

Atoms for Peace “Default”

The second album in what I suppose is easiest to just call Thom Yorke’s non-Radiohead body of work is very difficult to pin down. It’s all based on rhythm and groove, but the music is so chilly and cerebral that it negates its own funkiness. And yet you have songs where Yorke is essentially putting his spin on Afrobeat, or taking the essence of late 90s/early 00s Timbaland and filtering it through his distinct brand of ambient self-loathing and melancholy. It’s hard to know what to do with this music – it is, on the whole, much less melodic and hooky than his work with Radiohead, and I can’t imagine many people wanting to dance to it. It does have a certain sexiness to it, but that’s countered by Yorke’s odd insistence of always writing lyrics about complex, passive-aggressive interpersonal turmoil for his most sultry and romantic songs. “Default” has the best groove on the record, but here he is, singing about avoiding someone’s gaze and moaning “I’ve made my bed, I’m lying in it.” It is ridiculous to come to a Yorke record expecting positive vibes, but I do wish he’d avoid some of his usual patterns. And it’s funny – as much as you would think that Yorke working with guys like Flea and Joey Woronker would push him out of his comfort zone, this record and The Eraser before it sound like a guy taking the path of least resistance rather than having his work edited and pushed further by his longtime collaborators. I totally understand why that would be freeing, and I also definitely understand how this music covers some different ground that wouldn’t totally make sense in Radiohead. But still – as good as this music gets, I prefer the broader dynamic range and harmonic sensibility of Radiohead.

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