New wave, like any other stylistic fetish, can be channeled into something sexy and exhilarating, but just as easily made bloated and awkward when executed in poor taste. If catchy or fun enough, even the clumsy stuff can be enjoyable, but after the past decade, a temporary moratorium on B-52s or Duran Duran copycats is in order. Montreal’s Automelodi, however, take a decidedly different tack on their self-titled course through the dark and sensual side of ’80s-inspired synth-pop. Vaguely new romantic, with a distinctly European chill, Automelodi take strong cues from more obscure movements such as coldwave or minimal French wave and fuel them into something strangely familiar yet foreign all at once.
The foreign aspect of Automelodi’s sound is due largely in part to the fact that, save for one song, frontman Xavier Paradis’ lyrics are sung entirely in French. Whatever language barriers the listener might face, however, Automelodi’s self-titled debut is ultimately quite accessible and approachable, as unconventional as it may sound. Leadoff track “Schéma Corporel” struts and throbs with a confident swagger, yet its synthesizer hooks are subtly sinister and ethereal, marrying the atmospheric with the visceral. The English-sung “Airline” bounces along with a mercilessly throbbing bassline, while “Stylo-bille” is a billowing, softly bubbling plastic space ballad. And on “Rayons de Rien,” Automelodi reveals their most direct and hook-laden side with a track that pulses with an unshakable hook and a mesmerizing chorus.
Far removed from disposable revival acts, yet revealing a keen ear for the aesthetics of more seductive early ’80s obscurities, Automelodi’s debut is a blueprint in how to keep synth-pop fresh and interesting, more than three decades after it reared its neon-wrapped head. Each song brims with vintage analog synths, and the kind of soft abrasiveness that kept some of the best new wave from skirting the mainstream, yet Automelodi sounds surprisingly current, a paradox that only serves to make the album that much more alluring.
Soft Cell – Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret
Various Artists – B.I.P.P.P.: French Synth Wave 1979-1985
Martin Dupont – Just Because
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.