Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My Top 12 Songs of All-Time...Right Now: #5

Single from the album Mirrored
Single release date: February 4, 2007
Pitchfork's Top 500 Tracks of the 2000s: 42

I do not think I have heard a song that could serve as the soundtrack for so many different activities as “Atlas” can. My most-played song (according to, which started tracking most of my song plays since August 2005) for a reason, “Atlas” is currently my standard for replay value among musical neophytes because of its unflinching flexibility.

The experimental/math rock supergroup (who have just two EPs and two LPs to date), starring the excellent drumming of John Stanier, propel forward immediately on “Atlas”, creating a very robotic percussion background. It is as if the band is introducing some mammoth machine, some well-oiled specimen. Then, those quirky, distorted chipmunk vocals kick in, going on nonsensically about “kitchen is the cook” and “scissors are the barber’s”. There is a brief climax before everything abruptly shuts down before the three-minute mark…of the seven-minute song. The personified robot song gradually regains steam, as one new subtle element gets thrown in after the other until the keyboard alternates and the percussion gets louder and louder. This mythical, mechanical creature is back in full form, reciting its aforementioned SAT analogies until the chorus is repeated.

“Atlas” spurs a lot of imagery, but it almost begs to be spurred. It sounds so mechanical, so rigid, so math-y, it is easy to forget that a group of human beings are creating music here. For some reason, there is an overriding tongue-in-cheek implication inherent in the song. The song is not that funny per se, but it is not super-serious music, and the band knows this (near the end of the song, Robot Alvin mentions “The chorus doesn’t matter”.) Notable or quirky percussion is infectious, and “Atlas” follows suit without being cliché (for example, no stomp-and-handclaps). The progression of the song from build-up to climax to even more gradual establishment of self before back to normal, coupled with its distinguishable sound combine to make it great music for…well, pretty much anything. It is a solid song for the gym, either on the track or in the weight room (although hardcore music was made for the latter). It is an adequate driving song. It makes moving in and out of a room, or cleaning said room, slightly better. It works as good puzzle- or problem-solving music, as evidenced by its use in the phenomenal PS3 puzzler LittleBigPlanet. Above all, it is an enjoyable ride of a song that is difficult in which not to get lost, inducing frantic air drumming for a solid seven minutes. As nondescript as the adjective can be, “Atlas” stands alone as the most fun song on this list of superlative songs.

Full Version of the Song:

Music Video (Shortened Version of the Song):

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