CD Review of I Am Atomic Man! by Gil Ray

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I Am Atomic Man!
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: 125 Records
Released: 2006

Time was, record labels had distinct personalities reflecting the musical tastes of the men behind the logos. This was truer in the earliest days of the business, but even in the early youth and adolescence of music’s relationship with corporate America, consumers could look to the label for an idea of what they’d hear when they dropped the needle on their next blind purchase. It’s impossible to tell the tales of Elektra, Sire, and Atlantic, for instance, without delving into the musical backgrounds and tastes of, respectively, Jac Holzman, Seymour Stein, and Ahmet Ertegun, label founders whose sensibilities remained integral to their companies even after the shoe salesmen and funeral parlor directors descended from their boardrooms in pursuit of hits.

It isn’t like that today. The last major with any personality, Warner Bros., was lobotomized a decade ago in a series of mergers and bottom-line moves; these days, a label’s logo is nothing more than a stamp on a piece of product. To get a sense of that old feeling, a person has to get acquainted with indie labels – problem being, most indies tend not to stick around for long. More often than not, you can love music or you can have a decent head for business, but you can’t do both.

125 Records – founded with winnings from “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” – celebrates its seventh birthday this year, meaning that no matter how much longer it stays in business, it’s already lasted roughly six and a half years longer than at least 75% of the record labels in the history of music. This has come about, at least in part, because 125 releases reflect the tastes of its founders, and if you enjoy one, you can feel good about taking a chance on another.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that a solo album from a drummer, recorded without any actual drums, is an iffy proposition to begin with – making a possible exception for Don Henley’s Building the Perfect Beast – and making that album a loose, space-themed song suite would seem to make things iffier still. But since this is a 125 release, disbelief may be comfortably suspended; the folks at the wheel haven’t made any wrong turns yet.

I Am Atomic Man!, the debut solo release from Loud Family and Game Theory drummer Gil Ray, succeeds in spite of its daffy themes. Even if song titles like “Man in Space” and “This Is the Space Age!” send a shiver of fear down your spine, don’t fret; though it may give the appearance of a Hawkwind outtakes collection, this album is actually a loving throwback to the lo-fi, homebrewed indie rock of 20 years ago. Astro-Man might spend his time drifting among the stars, but his problems are pretty much just like yours; even better, his songs – performed and assembled entirely by Ray himself – have a pleasantly fuzzy analog vibe sorely lacking from most modern recordings – even most home-studio albums (thanks, Pro Tools!).

Scott Miller fans, and baby boomers who grew up imagining Amazon women on the moon, will probably get the biggest kick out of I Am Atomic Man!, but Ray’s songs are solid, memorable, and leavened with enough enjoyably low-key humor to make this worth a bite for anyone who enjoys good, old-fashioned, well-written pop music.

~Jeff Giles