Album Review: Automatic – Signal

Signal from Automatic resonated with me from the first listen and within the first 48 hours I must have listened to it around 20 times from start to finish which, considering I consume a lot of music on a daily basis, is like Amazon giving over 80% of its homepage to one book. There’s something about their sound that made me Alice to their White Rabbit and Automatic make excellent use of a pared-down sonic palate with saw-tooth synth sounds, ice pick bass and reverb-laden vocals that shimmer in cool blue. Born out of the L.A, DIY music scene Automatic coalesced out of jamming sessions in 2017 with Izzy Glaudini on synths and vocals, Lola Dompé on drums and vocals and Halle Saxon on bass and vocals. The huge strength in a three-piece band is that there’s nowhere to hide and everyone has to pull their weight.

The opening twang of ‘Too Much Money’ crackles with the meshing of organic and synthetic and the seasick wobble of the keyboard’s mod-wheel is shored up by a great syncopated bass line and a call-and-response vocal line – “I saw you there, you were walking down the street (you stay awake when you want to go to sleep)” that the Shangri-Las would have been proud of. ‘Calling It’ conjures up a laissez faire Talking Heads vibe and has an abrupt ending that pulls the rug out from underneath a superb synth-hook.

‘Suicide in Texas’ is the musical equivalent of a neon landscape, ‘I Love You, Fine’ a slow-build climb into the hills above L.A. and ‘Highway’ seems to draw strength from New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ in the repeated drum fill. The title track ‘Signal’ has some B-52’s DNA but the shiny-happy vibe is replaced by shiny-alienation and it sounded like a resigned mantra; a mechanical poem to lost, failed or unfulfilled love. ‘Humanoid’ is a swirling electronic waltz with a robotic narrator repeating “I see you, turn into, turn into, Humanoid” over sliding keyboards and a frost of atmospheric effects which is only thawed by the four-on-the-floor-chant-chorus motivation of ‘Damage’.

The final three tracks on the album make a perfect set. ‘Electrocution’ put me in mind of early John Foxx or Tubeway Army when synths were monophonic and angst was polyphonic. ‘Champagne’ is fuelled by the rhythm section which propels this song at a cracking pace and although it’s the most ‘up’ sounding track on the album it still delivers a strong ‘what’s the point’ message with the repeated line “Oh no, we’re going nowhere”. The album closes with ‘Strange Conversations’ which feels more like a swaying epilogue after the drive of ‘Champagne’ but Automatic know how to deliver a hook and this is a doozy: “I go out, I go out, I go out, on a Tuesday”. Despite the specificity of the day I don’t doubt that at every gig audiences will not be able to help joyfully singing along with this.

Maybe it’s the contradiction of freeways and neon held up against the desert that gives Automatic their cold/warm vibe. Automatic feel like the kind of band that come alive at night, like electro-vampires, supercool Alpha-Females with a listless confidence. There’s a supreme confidence in their sound which belies how long they have been together and Signal feels like it was recorded live with few overdubs. I loved the tension created from the fact that they seem to give no fucks and many fucks at the same time; they are Schrödinger’s Band.

Review by Paul F Cook
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