The Atlas Underground
Given all the outlandish and confusing shit that’s already happened in 2018, it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock that Tom Morello would make an EDM album. All 12 of its tracks featuring at least one extra hand on deck, The Atlas Underground is a breakneck-paced rollercoaster ride through waves of anomalous hip-hop, dance and bass music flavours, venerable prodigies like Knife Party, Gary Clark Jr. and Vic Mensa lending their distinctly idiosyncratic talents on tracks that shine a new light on Morello’s eccentric guitarmanship.
That alone is impressive enough. Through his work in Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave and a swathe of other atypical passion projects, Morello has tried virtually every trick in the book on his fretboard (and then some). That he’s still coming up with new ways to reinvent his playing is downright insane.
Despite wrangling in artists from a glut of diametric genres, The Atlas Underground is remarkably coherent. The frenetic energy of “Rabbit’s Revenge” meshes beautifully with the thumping sleaze of “How Long”, and though the fretwork is always instantaneously recognisable as Morello’s, the anarchist axelord is unfailingly varied and dynamic in his playing. “Vigilante Nocturno” and “Roadrunner” see him use grimy, downtuned plucks and whistling solos in place of bass drops with unpredicted piquancy; “Battle Sirens” has his signature ripping, arena-sized crunch play second fiddle to warbling synth lines.
Of course, a record like The Atlas Underground is all but guaranteed to polarise. Fans of Morello’s coarse, fury-driven string abuse in Rage might be utterly disgusted by the brostep-channelling breaks on “Lead Poisoning”, but find its punchy rap verses (courtesy of GZA and RZA) a searing throwback to his rap-rock prime. Too, the slick whips on “Lucky One” might hook Audioslave devotees in at first groove, but its atmospheric-heavy chorus could totally sour that mood.
For those with broader palates, there are plenty of weird and wacky gems to sink your teeth in on what is, at its core, Morello’s debut solo album. Absolutely none of them should work, all things considered, but then again this is Tom Morello we’re talking about – if there’s anyone that can take a metal-leaning math riff and slap it on a dancefloor banger, it’s this absolute unit.
Review by Matt Doria