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CD Feature/ Atom TM: "Liedgut"

img  Tobias

It is decidedly unfair to begin this review by namedropping Kraftwerk's Florian Schneider, who appears as a vocalist in the late stages of the album, in the very first sentence. And yet, how could one possibly avoid it? Uwe Schmidt, Atom TM's mastermind, consciously references the heartwarming sequencer lines of Kraftwerk's „Trans Europa Express“ while openly borrowing from „Radio Activity“'s stertorous speech patterns and semi-naive, semi-political vocoder messages. That latter album is a suitable reference in more than just sound, as „Liedgut“ takes on a similarly winding road of ultrashort scenes and charmingly curious songs through a fantastical land of frequential debris, discreet distortion and deep bass resonances.

Again, Schmidt's work risks being taken on face value or, even worse, for a novelty gag. He has been there before: His Senor Coconut album of Kraftwerk cover versions lighted up many boring parties in the mid-90s with its Cumba, Rumba and Tango edits of „Schaufensterpuppen“ and „The Model“, yet its playful reverence was mistaken for respectless irony. „Liedgut“ does not share the striking, seductive surface of that album, but its thematic bary-centre makes it extremely vulnerable to claims (both positive or negative) of being a quote, homage, collage or pastiche. Part of that stance of course stems from the fact that the sound worlds created by Schneider's dormant duo have by now been cloned, repeated, copied and reorganised by anyone from flashy retro-projects to underground industrial acts to whom opening a record with a sheet of white noise will seem a tribute to scenes Kraftwerk will definitely not want to claim any allegiance with.

The real point about returning to these techniques and timbres, then, must surely lie in re-evaluation and personal perspective. In a sense, „Liedgut“ can be regarded as an act of coming out for Schmidt, as baring his influences and awarding them a place within a much larger system. After all, Kraftwerk were not without their own role models either. Quite on the contrary. Folk inspired their straightforward melodic touch, romanticism supported their conceptuality and harmonic language, while disco would later come to shine through in some of their grooves. Schmidt goes back even further. On the miniature finale, the album is sung to sleep with an a capella version of „Es klappert die Mühle“, an old German traditional. Baroque chord runs adorned by minimalistic motives played by glistening bell sounds dominate the second half of the work, whose more stretched-out arrangements reveal an interest in subtle time distortion. Rhythmically aligned mobile phone interference, meanwhile, another sonic cliche in its own right, clearly earmarks these tracks as 21st century music.

It is interesting to note that there is an incision in the flow of the album after almost exactly half its duration. Having established a set of interdependent elements, Schmidt abruptly pulls the plug and starts from scratch, gradually rebuilding momentum. It is an astutely placed rupture, for it allows the listener to catch his or her breath after a truly magnetic sequence of twelve contrasting episodes of dark atmospheres and bubbly, all but percussionless Electro. On the other hand, the cut also implies a popular tactic from the Vinyl age of structuring an opus into two distinct sides – a technique which proves its ongoing effectiveness until today and awards „Liedgut“ a gentile mystique and even more spacious feel.

The fleeting character of „Liedgut“'s individual tracks as well as its insistance on building a tactile tension curve instead of revealing its magic straight away turn it into uncomfortable food for anyone demanding instant satisfaction. It may just be a coincidence that the Atom TM MySpace-page did not offer a sample, snippet or preview of this long-awaited new full-length, but it does appear as though the discreet profile of these piece will prove to be incompatible with the aesthetics of the ringtone generation. That, alas, would be a bitter letdown, for this wondrous record deserves more than being remembered for the fact that Kraftwerk's Florian Schneider contributed a couple of vocal lines for it.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Atom TM
Homepage: Raster Noton Records

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