Friday, March 2, 2007

Notes on the Automatic

Fine, Monsieur Catalogues, make fun of me if you want. But I genuinely enjoy this sprightly batch of Welsh lads in their late teens. They play a polished sort of pop-punk-noise, and the frustration in their music is all very adolescent I suppose, but I still relate to it godammit. Perhaps it has something to do with being on the verge of graduating from university: I enjoy a band like the Automatic because they remind me of my angry punk rock-loving (but not exactly dyed, mohawked, and pierced) teenage years, a time I'm pretty decisively drifting away from at this point; and the yelping, the screaming, and the anguished cries of things like "SOOOOOO MUCH TRASH ON THE RADIIIIOOOOO TOOOODAAAAAAY!!!" (from the aptly titled "You Shout You Shout You Shout You Shout") and bites of sarcasm (i.e. the bitter mantra of "Let's go back to work" at the end of "Raoul") correspond to the end-of-university, dissertation-writing mood of stress, bemusement, and terror of the future.

But "identifying" with a set of lyrics, as we sophisticates know, is not reason enough to enjoy a band. Or is it? Who knows? Does it even matter with tunes as good as these? Yes indeed, the Automatic's debut album Not Accepted Anywhere sports not a few bloody great songs. You folks in the UK already know all the singles, but for the benefit of my readers in the USA:

The members of the Automatic are all around 18 or 19 or 20, and the band make-up is somewhat unique. The singer--a pretty chap called Rob Hawkins--plays bass, and the basic guitar-bass-drums intrumental structure is augmented by a keyboard player by the name of Alex Pennie, notable for enriching Hawkins's vocal melodies with mountain lion yowling and for hopping around the stage like a furious marmot. Pennie might be considered the Bez of this band, if you will.

The band claims descendance from Blur, Radiohead, Muse, Ash, and the hardcore-noise scene in Cardiff where they cut their teeth. All these influences are detectable in the Automatic's music, from the caterwauling Telecaster (a stab at Greenwoodhood) to the totally wired mood of the album (Blur, Muse, Ash, etc. in their different ways); but something that makes the Automatic more than just another loud and catchy punk band is what you might call their Celtic soul. Again, feel free to disagree and make fun of me here. But I have to admit my heart soars everytime I hear Rob belt "Convex you bend, twist AND SHOUT!" in the second verse of "Monster"; I am a sucker for a Welshman with an intense voice. The Automatic have the same kind of fire and passion as their fellow countrymen the Manic Street Preachers, and Not Accepted Anywhere is a much better album than either of the Manics's first two. Whether or not these guys have a Holy Bible or an Everything Must Go in them remains to be seen, of course.

The other thing that sets the Automatic apart from other pop-punk bands is the structure of their songs. Everyone in the band seems pretty adept at their instruments, and their songs are full of odd bass riffs that come in and out, interesting sudden changes in rhythm, and as I mentioned some Greenwoodesque noise. The songs have loud riffs and huge spirit-cleansing choruses, but they also make you want to dance. Seriously! There's an underlying groove in the bass and drums that makes them far more danceable than any Cardiff scream-and-feedback ensembles. Good fun.

The most accomplished moment on the album comes late, in the form of Track 11 "By My Side." Honestly, if this song had appeared on PiL's Album, U2's Achtung Baby or Radiohead's The Bends it would be hailed as a masterpiece. In other words, I strongly recommend this CD. It's not blinding genius on the level of a Nick Cave or a Scott Walker, but like I've said too many times, it's great fun.

For now, enjoy some of their videos. The clip for "Raoul" is the only "rock n' roll liberates dull workplace" video where the chaos into which the office desends actually looks like fun. And the one for "Recover" just looks supercool, I think. And it has a pretty girl in it.

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