A constant theme in Automatic’s new album Signal is the dichotomy between human and machine. From the formation of the band itself, which had its roots in the DIY punk scene in LA, their grounded beginnings contrast that of their sound. Deciding to forgo the guitar in favor of synths, Izzy Glaudini (synths/vocals), Lola Dompe (drums/vocals) and Halle Saxon (bass/vocals) have crafted a soundscape that’s set in a digital dystopia. Where industries reign supreme and humanity is but a mechanical slave. “Do you see the signal?”, a line from it’s title track drives this whole idea home. It asks the question, what are we all doing, are we merely cogs in a system? Have we forgotten what really matters?
Inspecting each element individually, things may look square and robotic. The drum and bass sits in a constant rhythm, the laid back vocals stay suspended at a narrow range, with synths emitting a static fluorescent buzz. But together they become something greater than its parts, creating a surreal image that ponders on what it means to be human in a highly digitized society (all while being quite dance-able).
“Too Much Money” guzzles under neon lights in a fast paced stock market, where work exceeds the typical 9-5 grind, all in service to getting a larger paycheck. “Calling it” evokes doom with its claustrophobic echoes and compact bass lines that encloses you in its tight walls. “Suicide in Texas” continues this theme as the clanging of synthetic noises mimics the mood of an interrogation room, where a hard-boiled detective questions you for your own murder. “I Love you, Fine” oozes with ironic charm, with its cinematic mood and deadpan delivery of affection. It’s what a pop hit written in an industrial complex might sound like. “Highway” is a fun semi-instrumental detour that’s set in a retro-futurist 80’s — if Replicants in Blade Runner were in a car chase with Mad Max.
The title track is a standout in this album. Located right at the middle, it glues together each track into a central idea. An introspection of how we keep chipping away at our humanity in favor of tech advancement and economic growth. Typified by the line “I’d like to meet a distant wave of new design /To wash away the man in me it’s so divine” “Humanoid” drones on like a grueling job in an assembly line as a voice in the intercom repeatedly ponders “I see you turning to/humanoid”. “Electrocution” is inspired by a real near-death experience. The prevalence of the sawtooth wave evokes a hazard warning, while the catchy harmonies of the chorus represents a fondness with the experience. I highly recommend you check out the music video.
Signal is admittedly not an easy listen for those not too savvy with its influences, but once listeners buy in and get used to the atmosphere, they are sure to be immersed in its universe. Get ready to channel your cybernetic self as you’ll be hypnotized into moving your feet in binary patterns.