July will be the 10th anniversary of the release of the LCD Soundsystem song “Losing My Edge”. This is relevant because there’s a very clear message in that song: as you get older, you’re going to lose sight of how to stay relevant, and how to stay cool. At 22, I barely understand what is cool anymore, just as I barely understand why a lot of celebrities are famous. So, I have a hard time relating to a lot of what the kids listen to these days. In my line of work (i.e. talking about rock bands), this presents a unique problem: how do you talk about bands that you don’t quite understand? The main reason that I bring up “Losing My Edge” is because there’s a strangely prophetic lyric that people love to quote (I know I do whenever I get the chance), because it’s very silly: “I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables / I hear that you and your band have sold your turntables and bought guitars.” Since I became jaded about what is played on the radio, I realized that this was a fundamental problem: nobody can seem to decide which they prefer, so every couple years, the trends shift back and forth. If the not-so-modest success of bands like Passion Pit, and the unstoppable rise of brostep, are any indication, we are currently in a “sold your guitars and bought turntables” period of time.
This is where bands like Atlas Genius come in. Poised firmly in the middle of these two sides, they fill a much needed hole that we call “dance rock.” Where once upon a time it was something like disco, and was terminally uncool, it is now something that sells out medium-to-large sized venues, which are packed with people age 15-25 (plus or minus a few years on each end), who hear these bands and get off on going to those venues, and spending a couple hours getting sweaty and having the time of their lives. The band arrive with a sound that feels more-or-less fully formed, which is a definite plus, even if you end up seeing them like a chess game, where you can already tell exactly what the next 10 moves are going to look like. There’s a joy in Atlas Genius’s debut record, When It Was Now, that you don’t see around much these days, for better or worse. There’s also a sort of heartbreaking sincerity that they exude, even if you can’t tell what they’re being sincere about means anything at all.
One of the main problems with When It Was Now is that, at times, it feels like frontman Keith Jeffrey is singing very sincerely about nothing. This is a common trope in pop music, when you want to sing at the top of your lungs to the music and jump around to the music, but once you start to sink your teeth into the actual content, you find it to be mostly hollow. “On A Day” is a great example of this: the track soars with incredible energy, and comes with a fantastic chorus, but once you start to take it apart, you realize that “It’s a shame to lie in on a day like this” is a head-scratchingly silly refrain for a chorus, because it feels vaguely hollow. Similarly, “Change the locks, change the scene / Change it all but can’t change what we’ve been” sounds like a lyric that you write as a placeholder while you try and work out something a little better, because you realize that people may laugh if you’re a grown adult and write something that one-dimensional.
When It Was Now is a fine record, to be sure. The biggest problem with Atlas Genius has nothing to do with the band themselves, but with the rest of the bands around them: they’re a dime a dozen these days, if you pay attention to what plays on the radio. The prevalence of synthesizers and the use of 80s vibes in modern alt-rock are used ad nauseum, to the point where one might have a problem trying to establish whether or not this band is worth grabbing onto, or if you’re better off just waiting around for the next band that sounds like this one. I enjoy listening to this album, but then again, I enjoyed it the last 10 times I heard an album that sounded like this one.