Atom™ this week Monday released HD on indefatigably experimental electronic label Raster-Noton. It’s a 9-track, 40-minute guided meditation on the state of pop music, climaxing with the “Komputerwelt” homage track “Stop (Imperialist Pop)”. The vapidity and globally enforced sameness of commercialized pop media is the theme the record drives at, so as this RA reviewer so rightly observed, there is obvious irony in the fact that HD was released on the same day as the latest Justin Timberlake soporific. Among other sameness over substance acts name-checked on that track (with the demand they “give us a fucking break”), Timberlake carries the honor of being the name that makes the line rhyme. It is also ironic that this song’s obvious debt to Kraftwerk seems to indicate that the artist is under the yoke of another irresistible influence even as he decries commercial pop culture’s hegemony.
Third track “I Love U (Like I Love my Drum Machine)” features experimental electronic R&B crooner Jamie Lidell, a performer whose profession consists of recontextualizing a R&B mainstream pop thematically and sonically into the experimental and the underground. (Have a look at his video for “The City” wherein he has a shave outside a liquor store with a pink razor for an example of what I mean. Watching this again, with those brightly colored bottles hovering behind him and the pink ladies’ razor skimming across his face (we must keep up appearances!) I think, what a catchy little critique of urban alienation and domination by consumer kitsch!) The absolute genius of “I Love U” is revealed as it progresses toward a sample of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I have a dream” speech:
“In the words of Martin Luther… (begin sample) I have a dream… (end sample) Now listen to my drum computer.”
By reducing the whole substance of this anti-war and human rights activist’s magnum opus speech to a sound bite before a command to check out how cool he is, this track masterfully exposes exactly what pop does best. It effects a pleasant, Warhol-esque emptying of meanings wherein the surface, in its vaguest recognizability, is king. This is the primary theme of tracks “Empty” and “Riding the Void”. (This idea should go some ways toward explaining the popularity of Girl Talk a few years back, if you’ll pardon the digression.) The assertion being made is that, in the context of a pop song such as this, there may as well have never been a King or a context in which he originated his speech. We should also mention that Dr. King is ambiguously, if not erroneously name-checked… Martin Luther wrote the 95 theses that started the protestant reformation. Martin Luther King gave the “I have a dream” speech. Perhaps this ambivalence is deliberate- after all, if we accept that this record serves as a protest of the hegemony of vapid pop written in the language of vapid pop, then it can’t be a stretch to imagine that Atom™ is, as Martin Luther did in Latin, nailing up his theses in the language of the church.