Yet Schmidt and the Justin Timberlakes of the world probably have more in common than you'd expect. In a more perfect world, you could almost imagine Timberlake's lead single "Suit & Tie" and Atom TM's "I Love U" (which features inspired vocals from Jamie Lidell) vying for peak position on the pop charts. On the surface it's an absurd notion, as Schmidt's music appeals mostly to audiophiles, not tabloid mavens. I don't imagine HD will do much to change that, but it does take us to the heart of Schmidt's critique: there's absolutely nothing wrong with catchy music in and of itself, the issue is the stranglehold a handful of suits have over the pop-cultural landscape. Over the course of nine songs, Schmidt attempts to set this music free—and makes some of the most fun tunes of his career in the process.
As is the case throughout Atom TM's catalog, every last element on HD has been painstakingly crafted, and no sound is superfluous. (Though "high definition" makes perfect sense here, in a recent interview Schmidt said the acronym stands for "hard disk.") Albums like Liedgut are pleasing on the ears, but they don't aim at our pleasure centers quite the way this one does. Listening to openers "Pop HD" and "Strom," you still imagine Schmidt smoothing his moustache in front of a computer monitor, coding hard-drive glitches and micro-slicing forments. The difference is the wonderfully simple and insidiously catchy scaffold he's fixing his sounds to. At first blush, Schmidt's open armed embraces of pop—including a particularly flamboyant cover of The Who's "My Generation"—may sound a little cheesy. But unlike the pap you'll find the majors peddling, swaggering tunes like "I Love U" and the "Empty" grow meatier with each listen.
Schmidt does go over the top occasionally. On "Stop (Imperialist Pop)," a grumpily punkish cut, he makes explicit what had been coming through loud and clear all along. HD isn't a subtle record, and it sounds best when it's dialed back a little. "Riding the Void," a gorgeously mysterious bit of brittle electro, could be a hit on the dance floor, while also suggesting the intellectual emptiness of such places. All told, HD is that rare album both chin-scratchers and musical sweet-tooths can revel in. It's heady stuff, but only if you want it to be.