Atom and His Package – Hair: Debatable

Atom and His Package
Hair: Debatable

A few months ago, I had the unenviable task of writing a retrospective about My Bloody Valentine for my college newspaper. Great band, of course, but what the fuck could I possibly contribute to the mountains of articles/reviews already out there on the band. Loveless is great? Layers of guitars? Mad genius? Yeah, it turns out all that’s been covered before. I find myself facing a similar problem with Atom and His Package. There’s one key difference, however: There was never anything to say about Atom and His Package.

For the uninitiated, one-man-band Adam Goren plays synth-pop/punk-rock songs, and he sings about “zany” things like snowshoe barbecues and Enya. Sort of like a hi-fi Wesley Willis, if such a thing is possible or even worth contemplating. Goren has managed to make a career out of his looney punk-rock persona, releasing three not-poorly-received full-lengths before dropping Hair: Debatable, a document of his last live show under the Atom moniker.

As such, Hair: Debatable is a pretty nice package for fans. Despite what you might assume, the show is beautifully recorded, and it’s packaged with a two-hour DVD of the same show.

As I tried to make clear above, there’s not a lot to say about Atom’s music. He’s a master of stupid, short songs that make absolutely no attempt to push any boundaries. Which is ok – either you like it or you don’t. For the most part, this sort of humor-punk really doesn’t float my boat. “Happy Birthday Ralph,” for instance, is the epitome of everything that can go wrong in an Atom song: over a shitty drum-machine beat and a goofy bass synth, Atom repeatedly yells “Happy Birthday Ralph / I love you / Even though you are fucking disgusting!” I rest my case.

There are times, however, when Atom can be listenable, even if he’s never truly compelling. The manic foolishness of “Punk Rock Academy” is a lot of fun, and “(Lord it’s Hard to Be Happy When You’re Not) Using the Metric System” are both simple, punky tunes that remind me of the music I used to like in high school.

If you’ve made it this far into the review, however, you’re probably already a fan of Atom’s music, and you probably already think I’m a moron, incapable of having any sort of fun. Fair point, but let’s reconcile, shall we? The bonus DVD is actually kind of fun. Capturing the same final show that the CD does, the DVD also intersperses footage of Goren talking about his life after Atom. The music is a lot more fun live, even if the recording quality is much worse: Plenty of crowd noise and low vocals are distracting in ways that they’re not on the CD, but Goren’s onstage presence is amusing.

More importantly, the interviews set Goren up as a thoroughly likable person; stripped of his onstage “wit,” he’s a humble punk rocker dealing with a pregnant wife and the need to find a job to pay the insurance bills. I’m not about to philosophize about the death of punk-rock ideals or the tragedy of the real world, but it is refreshing to see someone as level-headed and, God bless him, intelligent as Goren talking candidly about it. Fans who don’t give a shit about the live show would be wise to check out this release for the interviews alone.

In the end, this isn’t going to win over any non-believers, but Hair: Debatable is a mighty impressive package for deserving longtime fans. Goren’s off-kilter humor and – how can I say this nicely? – Spartan instrumentation carved out a devoted niche, who don’t give a damn that there’s very little to say about kind-of-funny synth-punkers. More power to them.