Note: For some unknown reason, Atomizer is listed in the book as being released in 1985. But, looking everywhere online including Spotify, Apple Music, and Discogs, the release date is listed as 1986. Therefore, it will be the first album on the list from 1986.
This album was a mighty big surprise. The only thing I knew about Big Black was that one of their members, Steve Albini, produced (or in his words “engineered”) several landmark alternative records including: Surfer Rosa by Pixies, Pod by The Breeders and In Utero by Nirvana. I knew that Big Black’s music was loud, noisy and dark. But, after listening to Atomizer, I realized why I loved hardcore so much: energy. It’s only three guys and a drum machine but, the energy that you get while listening to Atomizer pumps you up. You’re ready to go and face the day. It’s exciting and contagious. I loved Steve Albini’s style of singing. He is struggling to be heard but amidst the noise, you can hear his vocal frustrations. He is laying his life out in these songs for you to experience. So brilliant and it makes me wish I would have tapped into this album during my high school years. They would have been much more bearable if I had access to Atomizer. All the frustration would have gotten lost in that music. The album may be noisy but never droning. There is a melody there too and that doesn’t hurt their music at all. My first image of the band was to associate them with the trio in the film Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. They too were three guys and a drum machine. Although, they were much more pop-oriented than Big Black. Big Black are so much more than that. I also felt excited when I heard Atomizer because here I was discovering something that most do not know even exists. It was exhilarating. It was a new discovery and something only I knew I would understand. I felt free listening to Atomizer. I could truly understand where this music was coming from. Somehow, it all works for me. Atomizer bridges the gap between the hardcore sounds of the early 80’s and the grungy sounds of the late 80’s/early 90’s. I can hear both influences on this album. It’s no secret that Steve Albini knows the value of sound on a record. Sure, he doesn’t want to take the credit. But, if Albini’s comments on the music industry are any indication, we need more Steve Albini’s and less calculated producers. Producers and engineers that aren’t afraid to take risks and trust a band and their instincts. Who knows what genius they will bring to the table? Only time will tell.
Highlights include: Jordan, Minnesota, Big Money, Kerosene, Fists of Love, Bazooka Joe, Strange Things and Cables.
Overall, I give Atomizer, 5 out of 5.
Next: Blood & Chocolate by Elvis Costello & The Attractions