Imagine if Harold Faltermeyer grew 50 stories high and stomped into Philadelphia, crushing the Franklin mint under his heel and blaring his only hit (“Axel F”) at wind-shear volume. The city panics; thousands flee for their lives. Mayor John Street picks up his red phone: he knows there is only one man who can save his city. “Atom, it’s Mayor Street. We have a problem.” Adam Goren puts down the phone, bundles his microphone and sequencer under his arm, and changes into his superhero uniform (baseball cap, clean T-shirt and black jeans). His alter-ego Atom and His Package hits the streets of Philadelphia and stands before the monstrous figure of Harold Faltermeyer. He quietly presses a button on his sequencer and a hooky cacophony erupts, a song called “Avenger”. Soon Atom is tramping back and forth, mike in hand, spitting out loud manic words in his curiously nerdy tenor voice, a sound that can best be described as “splendid”, “radiant”, and “really fucking annoying”. Helpless, Faltermeyer begins simultaneously shrinking and evaporating until only a single molecule hovers briefly in the air. Atom snatches it and puts it in his pocket. The city is saved.
OK it’s only a fantasy, but Atom and His Package really is that liberating. His loud and fast tunes are usually funny, garrulous, poppy, and occasionally moving. He’s the Nerd Everyman, with geeky enthusiasms for sports, punk bands, politics, cephalopods—even his own grandmother—suffusing his lyrics. There’s absolutely nothing pretentious, phony, or arty in his work. As for the sound: imagine the noisiest bits from Half Japanese crossed with the wittiest hooks from They Might Be Giants, and then add more cheesy synths and trash guitars. His new full-length album Attention! Blah Blah Blah. is yet another great bushel of tunes from this seemingly bottomless resource of pop-punk, and here the topics range from Palestinians to cigarette smoking. It’s another stupendous album by one of our national treasures, and . . . wait a second, you’re not jogging fast enough to the record store. Go! Go!
Compared with his past work, Attention! Blah Blah Blah seems to be Atom’s Sensitive Male album. Take, for example, the genuinely pretty song “Does Anyone Else In This Room Want To Marry His Or Her Own Grandmother”, which is literally about Atom’s sincere desire to keep his grandmother from living alone (by marrying her). Meanwhile, he reveals (to my shock and horror) that maybe he wants to have children in the weird tune “Dear Atom, You Do Not Want Children. Love, Atom” (n.b. the tune is weird because it ends with a melodic quote from Jeff Beck & Rod Stewart’s cover of “People Get Ready”, which makes it the second indie-pop tune this year to cop that melody [Ted Leo’s “First To Finish, Last To Start” is the other]). Finally, “For Aliza, Whenever She May Sleep” is a joyous, melodic, and slightly sexy tribute to a sleep-deprived medical resident (closing lines: “This is the Up and Down / This is the In and Out / This is the Quiet and Loud / This is the way is the way we pack it up and ship around”). Atom is obviously a nice sensitive man.
Speaking of packing up and shipping around, two of the album’s best tracks are about moving house. The very Faltermeyer-esque “I’m Downright Amazed At What I Can Destroy With Just a Hammer” (from last year’s Hamburgers EP) is about a klutz named Atom helping to renovate a new home (“I think I bribed a garbage man / I am a super Bad Boy again”), while the funky singalong “Possession (Not the One by Danzig)” is about (sing it with me) “all my possessions in boxes”. There are also two songs about vices (“Friend, Please Stop Smoking”—a Radio K favorite out here in the Twin Cities—and “I, Professional Gambler”), one song about cephalopods (“Head with Arms”, a tribute to a German octopus), and one song about pasting a mustache on your TV screen (“Mustache TV”, which actually seems to be more about Atom’s friend Josh Mills, “a goddamn genius and a motherfucking idiot” according to the lyrics). All of these songs are simultaneously hilarious and poignant: even the octopus song had me all misty-eyed and poetic as the synthesizers bubbled and the guitar soared and Atom held the same note for at least six seconds!
Atom and His Package has always been a master of the cover song: dinky-brilliant versions of Fugazi’s “Waiting Room”, the Misfits’ “Where Eagles Dare”, Madonna’s “Open Your Heart” and the Mountain Goats’ “Seed Song” litter his past albums, and often they’re the highlights. Here, the great cover of Radon’s “Lying To You” (I’ve never heard the original) fits in quite nicely, and just like with “Seed Song” he’s officially turned me on to a Artist I’ve Never Heard.
But there is one song here that I simultaneously love and hate. It’s called “The Palestinians Are Not the Same Thing As the Rebel Alliance, Jackass”, and as you can guess from the implied politics of the title, it’s bound to be controversial. As an indictment of blind allegiance to one side of a complex situation, I kinda like it, especially with its junk-Misfits guitars and shouted coda “Supposed to critical! Supposed to be cynical!” On the other hand, I don’t think sympathizing with the Palestinians should be trivialized or turned into the comic-book sloganeering that permeates this song. He gives a pretty good defense of the lyric in the liner notes, where he does say (in case you think his Jewish heritage is blinding him) that “those who blindly support the Israelis are also disturbing, but these are not the folks who I come into contact with regularly at shows, etc.” Anyway, it’s a great tune, and I love anything that will start a fierce debate.
Speaking of liner notes: Atom’s ink drawings of disfigured faces—surrounded by lyrics and painstakingly hand-lettered liner notes—are astounding and even beautiful, in a disturbing way. Just looking at his picture of a bald man with a brain coming out of his mouth makes me think CDs will never die: packaging like this is what makes music great.
Attention! Blah Blah Blah. lives up to its title and then some. So buy it already!
// Notes from the Road
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