Atom TM: HD

Uwe Schmidt's third Atom TM full-length release for the Raster-Noton label is a frustrating recording in that it includes both spectacular pieces and others less so; one comes away from it imaging the recording it might have been rather than the uneven affair it is. Schmidt is, of course, the wildly talented producer with a staggeringly deep discography who's recorded under a number of guises, among them Señor Coconut and Atom Heart. His familiarity with Kraftwerk's catalogue runs deep—he is after all the one who issued 2000's El Baile Alemán (The German Dance), an entire recording under the Señor Coconut name of Latin-tinged covers of Kraftwerk's music—so it's no great surprise that HD's Kraftwerk-styled tracks are up to snuff.

A fabulous opener, “Pop HD” pairs an Alva Noto-Kraftwerk-styled groove with French vocals by Jean-Charles Vandermynsbrugge that ape Kraftwerk's penchant for single words in place of conventional lyrics. The music's sophisticated and precision-tooled, yes, but it's also catchy as hell, and so too is the glitch-laden “Strom,” which otherwise harks back to Radioactivity and perpetuates the truncated vocal approach of HD's opener. Call them rip-off or homage, the album's opening pair does Kraftwerk almost as good as the band itself. HD takes an abrupt left turn at track three, “I Love U (Like I Love My Drum Maschine),” when Jamie Lidell contributes a soulful vocal to the tune's funk strut, the reference more calling to mind Prince than the Düsseldorf quartet (even if the sentiment is still “Computer Love”).

The grinding electronic-blues of “The Sound of Decay” is less satisfying, though one gives Schmidt points for attempting something as unusual as a hard rock-electronica fusion. It's with “Empty” that Schmidt's silly side starts to get the better of him when the tune lazily targets MTV (not that it's not deserving) by equating the track title with the television network. The also-Kraftwerk-styled “Stop (Imperialist Pop)” similarly tears a strip off the corporate machine and artists like Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake. The album's low point comes in the form of a pointless and unimaginative cover of The Who's “My Generation.” Schmidt wastes the opportunity to do something arresting with it, opting instead to largely transcribe the original into punk-electronic form, all the way down to John Entwistle's bass breaks and Roger Daltrey's stutter vocal.

Ultimately one comes away from the album thinking that had Schmidt chosen to fashion the album in its entirety along the lines of its opening pair of tracks, HD admittedly would have ended up sounding more derivative for hewing to a dominant style. But it also would have ended up being a more satisfying and consistent affair for not being dragged down by tracks of lesser note.

April 2013