On HD, Atom™, a.k.a. Uwe Schmidt, emphatically breaks down the barriers separating disparate forms of electronic music. Pop, techno, glitch and hip-hop all collide in ways both engrossing and impossibly messy.
The clearest influence in this endeavor is his fellow German electronic act Kraftwerk. Like Ralf and Co.’s most memorable songs, opener “Pop HD” is centered around neutrally-delivered soundbite-esque lyrics seemingly lauding (in French) the potential of high-quality (or hard-hitting) pop music: “Pop HD […] / C’est intense/et politique,” all delivered in a Hutter-esque deadpan over minimal, circular beats interjected by fizzy synth glitches. But there’s an edge to Schmidt’s music that is mostly absent from Kraftwerk’s meticulous pop. Atom™ clearly views pop music as wholly relevant and useful music, but only if it learns to challenge the straightjacket it is being hemmed into by corporate and market forces. This is even more evident in the tension between the more overtly catchy elements of his music and those aforementioned glitches and noises that Schmidt uses to disturb his music’s flow. At the end of “Pop HD,” the track briefly stops altogether, like one of those cliffhangers house DJs like to use in clubs, only for the voice to kick in at full force, this time drenched in saturation, its robotic disconnection suddenly transformed into an aggressive rush.
“Pop HD” lays the foundations for the thought-processes on HD, but these are expanded on most effectively on later tracks. “Empty” sounds like a glitchier take on The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette” or “T.V.O.D,” with rather to-the-point lyrics excoriating music’s commodification via television: “Empty / MTV / Empty,” etc. It’s not very subtle, but it’s hard not to smile at Schmidt’s determination, especially since this is the kind of harsh, minimalist synth-pop that initially flourished in the late-1970s before making way for the lusher excesses of the new romantics movement. “Stop (Imperialist Pop)” is perhaps Schmidt’s boldest statement on HD, its vocoder’d vocal invectives brimming with anger as the German takes broadsides at the major record labels and highly-manufactured stars like Justin Timberlake (“Give us a fucking break”) over shuffling beats and jittery electronic textures. “Stop (Imperialist Pop)” is neatly followed by a brash electro cover of The Who’s “My Generation,” just to ram the point home. Somehow, against expectations, Pete Townshend’s defiant lyrics take on fresh momentum when delivered in a mechanical voice and skittish drum machine clusters. And of course, Atom™’s music is so artificial-sounding, a line like “Hope I die before I get old” takes on new meaning. Do androids dream of making pop records?
In addition to these rants against consumerist pop, Schmidt also displays quite a bit of humor. “I love U” features Jamie Lidell in a cool guest appearance singing hilarious lines like “I love you / Like I love my drum machine,” whilst the aforementioned lyrics on “Stop (Imperialist Pop)” will have even the most stern-faced glitch fans smiling into their Ableton software. The tracks do get a bit samey, with only “I love U” and “Riding the Void” displaying true dance rhythms, whilst some of the more abstract pieces tend to grate, but there’s a humanity underneath the omnipresent synth noises and drones that belies Schmidt’s apparent austerity. HD is a weird and funny take on synth-pop conventions, and perhaps signposts new directions for the genre.