By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
On the surface, Atom and His Package is an irritating gimmick. Atom is a 25-year-old with a bachelor's in neuroscience and a master's in education who's certified to teach high school biology and chemistry, but instead chooses to perform and record quirky, synthy pop-rock. A former punk rock guitarist, he manages to work within the genre's confines while offhandedly satirizing them. By appropriating both the minor chord progressions and chugging rhythms of classic hardcore and the hard-and-fast verse-chorus structures of pop-punk on a keyboard gizmo with the sonic capabilities of an Atari video game system, he puts punk, with all its badass bravado, in a vulnerable position: like walking in a locker room and catching the high school bully whacking it. And by keeping the DIY aestheticdoing matinee shows with traditional slampit bands and networking with fanzines like Punk Planetthis fucker's only taunting punk's fragile ego.
What began three years ago as a joke act to open shows for a friend's band has become a mini-phenomenon, touring the U.S., Canada, Japan, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. Making Love is a greatest hits of sorts, collecting previously released material that spans numerous compilations and three EPs. And the joke doesn't get old until the 17th and final track (which is aggravating only because it promises to end 14 times, repeating the final cadence until you just . . . can't . . . take . . . it . . . anymore).
Unlike fuckers who tread similar territorylike Anal Cunt, where the joke ends at the titles because the songs themselves suck, or Weird Al, who rarely writes musicAtom is a clever tunesmith. "Pumping Iron for Enya" is an electropop brooder (like Erasure's unrequited-love dance ballad "Oh L'Amour") about trying to win New Age artist Enya's love by compulsively working out at the gym. The verses are gloomy, with sad power-ballad chords; the pre-chorus is a mechanical cheerleader chant"I'm being obsessive, B-E-ing obsessive"and the frown turns upside down with a classic walking-on-clouds synthpop chorus. And there are airy Bad Religion harmonies in the apocalyptically anthemic "(Lord, It's Hard to Be Happy When You're Not) Using the Metric System," where Atom pleads with America to stop using such fucked-up tables of measurement: "Canadians will think we're smart, or at least not dumb." (Outside of Zaire, everybody else is metric.)
Not surprisingly, there is a threshold to how much of this fucker any mortal can handle. Though Atom's beloved Yamaha QY700 sequencer has the ability to reproduce 600 instrumental sounds and 50 different drum patterns, by the seventh track his albums are still all Pac-Man and Miami Vice land, and his voice is a boyish version of Edith from All in the Family. What sets Making Love above its two predecessors (each containing 20 songs) is that the fucker addresses his limitations, even though it's not really a conscious decision (after all, the material here was previously released). Atom references "Axel F," Harold Faltermeyer's cheeseboard instrumental from Beverly Hills Cop, in the middle of his remake of Philly homeboys the Dead Milkmen's "Nutrition." And for four songs, he even fronts a real band, doing raw guitar-based renditions of Package classics to a live audience of two people. Atom did the show under the name Lobster Mobster and released the EP as Atom and His Rockage, supposedly in hopes that Maximum Rock 'N Roll would start covering him againthe mag had stopped taking the fucker's ads and reviewing his records when they decided his synthy stuff doesn't fall within the area of music they approve of. Those fuckers!
No Idea, P.O. Box 14636, Gainesville, FL 32604. Atom and His Package play a free show at the NYU Commuter Commons March 9.