Atom™: HD (Raster-Noton)
Uwe Schmidt outdoes himself yet again with a cheeky but brilliant album of slick electronic pop that veers pretty far left of center. It’s certainly one of the only times I’ve heard music with a sense of humor on the typically severe Raster-Noton label — Schmidt delivers more than a wink with many of the tracks on HD, including a rabblerouser cover of “My Generation” that would fit in with his mid-00s covers LB record, Pop Artificielle. The sound of most of the tracks picks up where his excellent Liedgut album left off, with crisp, digital production that is characterized by white noise, pure wave synths, and meticulously sequenced details. But like many of his releases, there’s a concept unifying the tracks, and in this case, it’s a backlash to manufactured pop and vacant dance music. Restless a spirit as ever, Schmidt starts off perhaps pandering to the Raster-Noton aesthetic before introducing more playful elements, like the punchy electro and jaunty bassline of “Strom” or the white-boy soul of “I Love You Like I Love My Drum Machine” (vocals courtesy of Jamie Lidell). I have to say, though, that Lidell’s vocal is the weakest link on this album — there’s something so fresh and insular about Atom™’s music with every new release that Lidell’s Prince-esque guest appearance doesn’t add much for me. Contrast that against the time-stretched, granular rock & roll of “The Sound of Decay,” with its noodly blues guitar (reminding me of Schmidt’s 90s project HAT) and skittering arpeggios, and there’s no contest as to which track wins out. Thankfully, it’s not a competition, and there’s plenty of great ideas to go around here. One of my favorites is the chunky electro groove of “Riding the Void,” although the hilarious commentary of “Stop (Imperialist Pop)” has a more than subtle nod to Kraftwerk in its snappy rhythm section that makes it irresistible. Like many of his projects, HD splits the difference between cheeky wit and perfectionist production, sounding both incredibly current but also likely to age quite well by virtue of uniqueness and ingenuity. Top notch.