Automatic, “New Beginning” (Stones Throw)

Named after a Go-Go's song, Los Angeles trio Automatic surfaced in 2019 with the sangfroid, steely nerved album Signal, a rewarding deviation from the underground-hip-hop powerhouse label Stones Throw's usual output. On that LP, synthesist Izzy Glaudini's anomic vocals add a coolly detached glaze to the group's linear, slyly melodic approach, buttressed by drummer/vocalist Lola Dompé (the daughter of Bauhaus/Love & Rockets/Tones on Tail sticksman Kevin Haskins) and bassist Halle Saxon's tensile groove machinations. 

Automatic’s sophomore album, Excess, refines Signal's motorik thrusts and sleek melodic contours. The rhythms are geared for swift, frictionless transit across moonlit boulevards as synths gleam, glower, and glitch with rigorous attention to timbral detail. “Automaton” cruises elegantly out of the gate with a star-dusted drone and bass line percolating like that in Joe Jackson's 1982 mega-hit “Steppin' Out,” but with more tension in it. A hypnotic percussion motif built out of Glaudini's quirky array of tones gives way to disorienting shafts of sci-fi-film-signifying FX, revealing a broader sonic palette than previously.

On “Realms,” Automatic take a rare and enticing detour into brooding balladry, sounding like Siouxsie & the Banshees on Quaaludes. “Teen Beat” channels B-52s' enchanting “53 Miles West of Venus” energy without sounding like a blatant tribute. With the album-closing “Turn Away,” Automatic deliver the swelling lighter-waver that few probably thought they had in them. But, again, the overall style is sculptural minimalism derived from post-punk's first wave, compounded by a nonchalant coolness in the songcraft and singing. 

Excess peaks on its first cut, “New Beginning,” a song that starts a bit like Young Marble Giants' gently apocalyptic “Final Day” before accelerating into a metronomic burner whose urgent sonic attack—replete with discordant synth stabs and snappy claps—embodies the lyrics about escaping a doomed planet and finding another frontier on which to reboot the human race. It's equally exhilarating and nerve-wracking, a satisfying merger of words and sounds. And you can dance to it.

Automatic perform Friday November 11 at Freakout Festival.

Fire-Toolz, “Soda Lake With Game Genie” (self-released)

Chicago's Fire-Toolz (aka enbee musician Angel Marcloid) has been mangling and merging genres under this handle since 2017. She's notorious for slamming together stylistic incongruities with perverse ingenuity for labels such as Hausu Mountain and Orange Milk, steadily building a cult following. To grossly understate things, Fire-Toolz's music is not for everyone. (Music “for everyone” is a myth, anyway.) But in a world rife with predictable, blatantly derivative artists, Marcloid stands out for her nuttily chameleonic discography. She also plays or has played in 19 groups and has recorded under even more aliases, making for a profusion of confusion. But Fire-Toolz has become Marcloid's best-known project and a fascinating entry point into her unique sonic universe.

Fire-Toolz' Bandcamp page lists 15 genres, which might be a new record. Various extreme strains of electronic music and metal figure heavily in her work, juxtaposed for maximal bafflement. One needs rapid ear movement to follow the mercurial ideas torrenting through a Fire-Toolz track. What sounds like a facsimile of a corny TV movie theme can at any moment get overrun by breakneck gabber-techno beats or be laced with lava-gargling death-metal screams or shift on a dime into a beatific New Age or smooth-jazz reverie. It's a cavalcade of post-everything maneuvers that'll simultaneously have you laughing at Marcloid's sheer absurdity and audacity... and banging your head... and blissing out. 

Fire-Toolz' latest missive is the seven-track EP, I will not use the body's eyes today. It hints at what will appear on a full-length coming out next year on Hausu Mountain. Not as stylistically omnivorous as earlier releases, I will not use the body's eyes today. focuses more on Marcloid's glitched, IDM-informed textures and quasi-funky beats (“Vedic Software ~ Wet Interfacing” is an exemplary specimen), and ambient soundscaping.

“Soda Lake With Game Genie” begins with such an earnest and pretty bombastic flourish, you may feel as if you've accidentally tuned into a MOR radio station from Dubuque ca. 1983. Then Marcloid lets loose her demonic vocals, and the contrast between that larynx-shredding and the genteel synth motif, heart-bursting sax solo, and florid guitar showboating is a LOL WUT moment for the ages. All the while, some wicked beat science roils. Then an ambient passage of angelic poignancy drifts in from a Hollywood movie soundtrack, and your equilibrium has been whiplashed so artfully, you don't know what decade it is. Now that's subversion...