It’s difficult to recommend a representative entry point to the work of German electronic composer Uwe Schmidt, both because his discography is spread across several dozen monikers and because his recordings under any given name often sound completely different from his other projects. As Atom Heart or Atom™, he tends toward ambient music that moves with the slow deliberateness of a drop of syrup running down a Mrs. Butterworth’s bottle (DATacide, with Tetsu Inoue); as Senor Coconut, he wrangles brass and percussion samples into simulacra of traditionally-arranged Latin music, covering selections from artists such as Kraftwerk (El Baile Aleman) and Yellow Magic Orchestra (Yellow Fever!); as Geeez ‘n’ Gosh [sic], he stuffs gospel samples into a thickly-layered lasagna of glitchy beats and sounds (My Life with Jesus); etc. Each of his albums that I’ve heard is worth checking out (save maybe those released as Lassigue Bendthaus, whose acid-house repetition lacks personality), but it’s a fool’s errand to try to point to any one of them as giving the listener even a general idea of what to expect across the whole spiderweb of his oeuvre.
Pop Artificielle, released under the name LB, is as good a starting point as any, I suppose, as it puts front and center his trademark tension between accessible melody and experimental bursts of electronic buzzes, whines, and clatter. It’s a collection of ten covers ranging from classic-rock staples (Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman,” John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”) to funk (James Brown’s “Superbad,” Prince’s “The Future”) to vintage electronica (Ryuichi Sakamoto’s “Thatness and Thereness”). The original songs’ melodies are present and mostly recognizable, even as the vocals are delivered through a custom-made vocoder program that processes Schmidt’s voice into that of a sputtering android. Though the rhythms are intricately programmed into fascinatingly-pinging collages of digitally-distressed sound, Schmidt also somehow keeps them loose enough to even get a little jazzy when that’s the direction a particular song might lead him: his deconstruction of “The Future,” for instance, pares the song down mostly to tooth-grinding whispers and whomping, whirling bass sounds, but the rhythm is so haltingly groovy that it puts the lie to any notion that electronic compositions have to sound too mechanized to be human.
That sense of a genuine, personal presence guiding these performances is what makes Pop Artificielle a standout within the world of glitch music. There’s nary a noise on the disc that sounds organic, but rather than sounding cold and sterile, Schmidt is careful not to lose the emotional core of the original recordings. Whether it’s James Brown’s bravado or the sense of regret that makes the Rolling Stones’ “Angie” such a tear-jerker, Schmidt homes in on the elements that made these songs so memorable in the first place and locates a way to approximate them with piles of computerized detritus. The concept of the album may sound ironic or absurd, and while I don’t think Schmidt’s presentation is humorless, I also think he’s sincere in his effort to bring something to these songs that goes beyond a game of genre dress-up. The result is unlike anything else I’ve ever heard, like a personal mix CD of a friend’s favorite oldies played on a stereo that’s struggling not to totally conk out.