Recording an album can be like experimenting in nuclear physics. All the correct elements have to be assembled, combined, and balanced in the correct way so that the following reaction will stabilize (i.e. not meltdown or go boom). The members of Atomic Man, some of the more preeminent band members in the Georgetown scene, unfortunately have a small meltdown on their hands. Where their equation went wrong is in the mix, which causes the other fairly strong elements of the LP to falter.
It is a shame that the mix is so distracting, because otherwise Atomic Man would have a strong debut record on their hands. The group prove themselves as capable songwriters throughout, especially on the poetically blunt “Tell Me Like It Is.” Featuring a post-chorus segment taken from the pages of Brave New World, the members conjure dark and provocative imagery, invoking listeners to visualize scenes like “Southern fires gleam across the ocean floor / Lighting the warlike faces of men who rode the night before.”
The group certainly delivers on their promised combination of modern blues masters like Jack White and the Black Keys. On top of that, they find room to channel some of the core essences of the blues masters. David “Brady” Fowler, lead guitar and vocals, brings the simplicity of guitarists like Howlin’ Wolf and White while using an array of guitar effects to conjure a Hendrixian tone from his pedal board. The album’s strongest track “A Beginner’s Guide to Finding Love (And Other Assorted Stories)” is where these elements collide and peak. Fowler’s account of love is just the right balance of mournful, biting, and resolute emotion, with such memorable lines as “Think if I was drowning / You’d watch me sink / Sink so low.” The band also evokes “Little Wing” with a light yet propulsive feel coming from all the instruments.
“A Beginner’s Guide to Finding Love” flows masterfully into the appropriately related “Stay or Fade.” Brian Moran’s drums, audible completely in this one section of the album, add flourishes and cross beats that contrast nicely with the straight chords that Fowler chops across the sonic foreground. Easily the most propulsive song on the LP, the dichotomy between “Stay or Fade” and “A Beginner’s Guide to Finding Love” suggests an intuitive knowledge as to the lost art of sequencing an LP. Fowler manipulates his voice the best here too, pulling back the registers in order to sink into the depths of the emotional content. While Moran is finally audible, Alex Kondziolka’s tasteful, melodic bass lines are near-impossible to detect.
Across the seven tracks the problem is always the same: the guitar and vocals are way too out front in comparison to the drums and the bass. The bass is frankly impossible to hear on some of the LP’s songs and this ultimately is not a neutral but negative feature. Most notably on “Sister” and “Down and Out” (a fan-favorite from the Law Abiding Criminals days) the bass and drums are overshadowed by over-imposing guitar and vocal tracks. This especially makes “Down and Out” suffer. Blues rock needs a certain bite in order to sound good and usually this comes from having a strong anchor in the bass. Without the presence of bass tonalities in the song, the guitar and voice sound quite tinny. Atomic Man anchors the disc with “Heavy Demo,” which leaves one to wonder: Was the band just saving all their heaviness for one track? If that was their plan, it does not work.
Recording is an art, not a science. Still, even in art experiments sometimes go wrong. Atomic Man had a meltdown with this LP, but not a Chernobyl-size catastrophe. Except for the mixing, the group shows a lot of potential on their first album. It’s just unfortunate that they were unable to capture in the recording studio the same drive and energy that the band’s fans have come to admire in their live performances.
WGTBest Tracks: “A Beginner’s Guide to Finding Love (And Other Assorted Stories)” and “Stay or Fade”
- Originally published on the Rotation, WGTB Georgetown Radio's music blog, on 05/05/14