“There’s a light in the dark,” a phrase and mission statement from LA’s Automatic‘s doom-so-good sophomore album, serves as a bridge between their 2019 debut breakthrough Signal and their new apocalyptic groover Excess. The band—Izzy Glaudini (synths, lead vocals), Lola Dompé (drums, vocals), and Halle Saxon-Gaines (bass)—ditched the tape hiss and raw edges of their first record in favor of meticulous drums and chewy, cinematic low-end synthesizers; audacious sounds for a nervier time that perpetually brandish colder-than-cold grooves that cook Gary Numan darkwave into the cake batter.
Excess catches the point when keyboards, twitchy percussion, and those evergreen coldwave hooks sense the battle and pursuit of triumph on the horizon, no matter how heavy things might get. Signal, the declarative whir of three women who named their band after a song by the Go-Go’s, cut through all the noise. Their heroines were the only all-female band to have written and played instruments on an album to reach number one in the U.S. Automatic, who purposely decided not to have a guitar in the band, were uninspired by the masculine energy of the local scene and rock music on the radio, “pumped out like plastic bottles into the ocean”.
If Signal combined B-52’s-type vocals, ESG jitters and knotty harmonized work residing between Suicide and NEU! then Excess is Patrick Bateman’s soundtrack, loaded to the teeth with bone-colored paper cardstock, reflecting the corporate culture of the ‘80s; or, as the band puts it, “That fleeting moment when what was once cool quickly turned and became mainstream all for the sake of consumerism.”
Hey, if Kate Bush can chart in 2022—due to an ’80s-themed Netflix show—let Automatic put the mother sucker on rip. And they do. From the opening tune “New Beginning,” which is booed-up with handclaps and new wave energy, the group grows colder with rhythms, icier with swagger, and fiercer with emotions. Folks, these are not bright and cheerful times. The actual filth continues to attack. Isolation, fascism, pandemics, shootings, racism, divided civilizations, and contentious politics are all factors. The real shit keeps getting at it. It’s the perfect storm of all shit shows. But this trio of badassery channels their inner The Roots ( I shall proceed and continue to rock the mic) and makes the Mother of all artisanal Lemonade.
“Skyscraper” combines turned-down enthusiasm with behind-the-scenes refinement, incorporating the “I don’t know what’s next on the breaking news ticker” emotions into the ‘downtown 81’ flair that Basquiat is just waiting to SAMO about. Moodier and thicker, “Realms” expands on the Ghost In The Machine accents that The Police dabbled with before Gordon Sumner attained national acceptance. “Venus Hour” and “Teen Beat” both play in Bow Wow Wow’s no-wave sandbox, distilling sonic delight bombs everywhere. “NRG,” created in a cathartic frenzy after hearing Crass and titled after disco pioneer Patrick Cowley, see Automatic touch the hands of their foremothers, offering The Go-Go’s the finest homage conceivable. And drummer Lola Dompé—daughter of Bauhaus’ Kevin Haskins—has been maintaining the meter as precise, subtle, and non-showy from infancy.
Excess indicates that Automatic may have the chops to outperform both innovators over time. Fingers crossed that we do indeed have more time.
Label: Stones Throw
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to Treble since 2018. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in The Wire, 48 Hills, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK and Drowned In Sound.