Automatic Fuses Past and Present Together on "Signal"
by Kenny Cox
Los Angeles — a utopia or an underworld depending on who you ask. This dual nature of the city, with its bright skies and sunny beaches contrasting with its horror stories and countless crushed dreams, seems like the perfect place for post-punk trio Automatic to rise out of.
Forming in LA’s DIY scene in 2017, the band comprises of Izzy Glaudini (synth/vocals), Lola Dompé (drums/vocals), and Halle Saxon (bass/vocals). The group has garnered a following in the LA scene for their highly danceable, undeniably cool tracks that carry a current of darkness under them. After a string of singles released this year, the group’s debut album, Signal, was released this past week on Stones Throw Records.
Automatic wastes no time with introductions. The album snaps into focus with “Too Much Money,” a single released earlier this July. Within seconds, the formula that many of the album’s tracks follow is established — a quick bassline snippet makes way for peppy drums and jagged, eerie synths that dominate the track. And it works incredibly every time. “Too Much Money” recalls the energetic kick of tracks by bands like The B-52’s, but with an undercurrent of anxiety that seeps through the song’s lyrics. “You stay awake when you wanna go to sleep/Said hello but you weren’t there/you should get off of the dirt on your feet.” Glaudini and Dompé sing, calling and responding to each other’s lines like a perfect musical conversation.
The anxious feelings found in “Too Much Money” creep into later tracks across the entire album. “Humanoid” is a technophobic, dread-filled track that sounds like Joy Division at their gloomiest, wandering the industrial wasteland of a David Lynch film. “I see you turn into, turn into humanoid” sings Glaudini, fearing the loss of humanity in the digital age. The album closer, “Strange Conversations,” dives deeper into the existential fears of life in 2019 — a dying planet, collapsing relationships, the feelings of isolation brought about from a supposedly connected online world. “I’m walking backwards, though I find it hard to tell/The world goes faster when your time is running out” deadpans Glaudini, conveying the defeat so many of us have succumbed to.
This isn’t all that Automatic has to offer though. Early-album highlight “Suicide in Texas” fittingly borrows from ‘70s synth-punk duo Suicide, with crunching drum machines and buzzing electronics accompanying haunting lyrics and screams buried in the mix. It’s a great homage to one of the bands that seem to have heavily influenced Automatic. “Electrocution” slows down the band to recount an electrical accident that nearly ended Glaudini’s life. “Your heart went faster/the sound of laughter/and then it’s over/there’s nothing after” sings Glaudini, capturing the feeling of her life flashing before her very eyes. It’s a vivid lyrical portrait of a terrifying experience and is one of the album’s strongest moments.
But amidst all the dejection and fear found in Signal’s lyrics, these songs were meant to dance to. And no track does that better than “Highway”. Kicking off with a stuttering drum machine before diving into Automatic’s signature recipe, the track sounds like a lost New Order track unearthed years later. With just one lyric repeating throughout, the track is less focused on vocals but is a showcase of how well the band jams together. It sounds like the coolest track of both 2019 and 1983.
In a press release for Signal, Automatic wrote“The world is so fucked up, we don’t know how any musician could say, ‘This is all peachy.’”The band sticks true to this, confronting their personal, political, and global fears, making an album that sounds unlike anything else today. Signal is a fantastic debut for Automatic, one that cements the band as a group that’s unafraid to dance in the face of whatever terror tomorrow may hold.