Here are the album reviews I wrote for the April issue of EL Magazine, which was distributed in Tokyo on Monday.
-Atoms For Peace (Hostess)
-John Foxx and The Maths (MSI)
However one interprets the work of Thom Yorke, as either a member of Radiohead or a solitary creative unit, his choice of electronic music over the more conventional electro-acoustical forms deserves more scrutiny since he’s probably done more to promote what is still disparagingly called “electronica” to the masses than any Warp artist or major label hip-hop producer. Though Yorke is ostensibly fronting a band on this project, the listener will likely not register individual performances since one of the hallmarks of electronica is its ironically organic gestalt. No matter how many “players” are participating it sounds programmatic by design; which isn’t to say it sounds artificial, only that it’s more difficult to distinguish the personal affectations that usually constitute collective pursuits. Yorke writes and sings everything here, and if the compositions are more free-form than his Radiohead work, they also lack the intramural tensions that makes Radiohead’s music so compelling, even if AFP’s propulsive rhythms qualify it as more of a dance outfit. As bassist, Flea sports the most recognizable musical mannerisms and provides more melodic distraction than Yorke might be comfortable with, but he isn’t half as funky as he gets with the Chili Peppers, even when exercising his Afrobeat druthers on “Before Your Very Eyes.” The percussion is even less notable for its power than for its textures, suggesting that Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco knew they weren’t hired primarily to keep the beat. What we’re left with is Yorke’s vocals, which despite the uniform wistfulness never fail to engage. It’s not just the flesh-and-blood contrast with the surrounding machine, it’s the effort to break free of the machine, which is the greatest irony of all for an artist who named his solo project after a phrase that attempted to soften the image of the most destructive technology ever invented. Or maybe it isn’t. John Foxx, formerly of Ultravox, is a pioneer of electronic pop, and his new outfit the Maths is more forthrightly analog-sounding than Atoms For Peace, which doesn’t make it any less mechanical, but that was always the point of synth-pop anyway, right? The pioneer of this sort of ghost-in-the-machine style was Peter Gabriel’s Genesis, and if Foxx’s similarly processed diction sounds pretentious it’s also accomplished. The vocals are certainly more impressive than Yorke’s if only because so much care has gone into the multi-tracking. Sometimes it can get ridiculous—the Boris Karloff inflections on the Matthew Dear-assisted “Talk,” for instance—but Foxx starts from a more familar place, the dark recesses of the psyche that so much electronica endeavors to plumb. His methodology is more melodramatic than Yorke’s, indicating a classical approach to art rock. That’s the weird thing about old electronic pop: despite the label it made no claims to pleasure. It was totally caught up in meaning. Blame it on David Bowie if you want to, but when such music succeeds in its aims, it can be thrilling. Continue reading