PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Atom & His Package’s music might be an acquired taste for many people. An ex-punk rock kid and his “Package”, a sequencer, together make music that is incessantly goofy. With a voice self-described as “whiny”, a singing style somewhere between rapping, speaking and rock-singing, a tendency to cover 1980s songs (either between or within his own songs), a habit of writing humorous songs about his friends, and a synth-heavy sound, he’s the sort of musician who’s easy for some people to write off as gimmicky or just a joke. Yet anyone who writes him off that quickly needs to take a closer listen; hearing Redefining Music or any of his previous three albums, even just once, reveals a multidimensional personality who projects fun and a sense of humor but also can touch heartstrings, make serious social commentary and pen the catchiest of melodies.
Redefining Music‘s success comes from this ability not only to go back and forth between funny and serious, but to be both at the same time. For example, the song “If You Own the Washington Redskins, You’re a Cock”, gives a thorough argument against sports teams with Native American names and mascots but also uses humorous counter-examples (like “a Jesus Christ mascot, with a hot dog-shooting crucifix thing”) and infuses the whole thing with an infectious catchiness. That last part is another key to Atom’s music. He has taken the best parts of punk rock (the energy, the simplicity, the DIY attitude) and mixed them with a popsmith’s sense of melody. So his songs have the spunk you need to get you to shake your ass and the songwriting you need to make the songs memorable after they end.
There are 15 songs on Redefining Music, and they cover a variety of subjects. He sings about his world—a friend he knows who is only funny when he’s not around (“Undercover Funny”), card games he plays with his friends (“Trump”), his friends’ band Franklin, which recently disbanded (“For Franklin”)—and about our world—the aforementioned sports teams, people’s attitudes (“Mission 1: Avoid Job Working With Assholes”), maps and directions (“Upside Down From Here”), and death (“Before My Friends Do”).Yet the songs about his personal experiences will correlate to what you’ve experienced, and the songs about the world around us clearly come from his own personal experiences, so it’s all part of the same picture, really.
There’s also a Madonna cover (a relatively straightforward “Open Your Heart”) and three Mountain Goats covers (“Seed Song”, “Going to Georgia”, “Alpha Desperation March”). The latter are definitive proof of Atom’s talent and of the fact that sequencer-created synth-rhythms are not at odds with raw emotional power. He sets three bare-bones, heart-wrenching story-songs from one of our country’s best songwriters to his own unique musical backdrop and loses not one iota of the songs’ strength. In fact, their strengths are emphasized in a way, as it’s clear how universal they are, how they can be manipulated without losing anything.
Atom & His Package might not be redefining music as we know it, but he is creating his own style of music, one that comes from his own experiences and his own personality, and continually tweaking it. On Redefining Music, he has found his best mix yet of the various elements behind his music. These songs are fun, but they’re not lightweight; his music is silly and serious, delightfully goofy and worth listening to closely.