By Ken Scrudato on August 3, 2010
Rent asunder, the moniker of the seemingly long-in-hiding Los Angeles band Autolux breaks down to a prefix indicating "automatic" followed by the Latin word for "light." Their debut album, released in 2005, was called Future Perfect. And at that moment, their particular star did, indeed, seem to shine effortlessly brightly. Both their name and the title, then, appeared to be a statements of admirably optimistic intent--signed as they were to the burgeoning and Sony-backed label (DMZ, apparently referencing Korea's Demilitarized Zone, which we are all aware the music business is anything but) of godhead producer T-Bone Burnett, and championed by none other than iconic iconoclastic filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen.
Five years hence, bruised by the vagaries of the biz, drummer Carla Azar, bassist Eugene Goreshter, and guitarist Greg Edwards (they all sing) have a second album that flaunts another optimistic, new wavey title, Transit Transit, and actually finds them rather undiminished by the struggles. Azar recounts without a whiff of regret in her tone.
“T-Bone had just come off working on [the Coen brothers film] O Brother, Where Art Thou. At that time, they just decided to put a label together to put the soundtrack out. T-Bone had seen us, and said he wanted to sign us. It was really great.”
“We were forced into a cave,” she continues. “It’s really boring—the first part of it is that we were on a label that wouldn’t release us from our contract but also wouldn’t give us money to make a new record. They didn’t know what to do with us, and they knew they would have to pay us to drop us, so we were sort of stuck in Purgatory.”
If their debut was a masterstroke of beautiful noise, the self-produced Transit Transit sounds like a band finding virtuosity amidst the dissonance. The opening and title track might remind you of Cocteau Twins, Sigur Ros, even Primal Scream, with its ethereal psychedelics and backwards tracked drumming. It’s followed by “Census”, its monotone vocals and caustic guitar standing in distinct opposition to all that pretty preceding it. Azar then plays breathy 30’s crooner lost in the forest of trippy dippy on “The Bouncing Wall”, which is awash in fantastically surrealist imagery (“I am free / The wall is bouncing / The lights are green / I am melting”). The surprises continue in abundance.
“There are so many strange songs on this record,” she observes, “I don’t know how you can even categorize them at all. We were actually aiming for farther back to bands like Can. In fact, they were so modern, that a lot of bands now are influenced by them.”
Farther back, indeed. While the rhythmic haywire of feral, determinedly abrasive tracks like “Kissproof” and “Headless Sky” bear the stamp of all that drug-addled 70’s Krautrock experimentation, there’s also a Pink Floydian sense of space and atmosphere throughout and the sort of lush, enveloping harmonies that would not be out of place on, dare we say it, a Beach Boys album.
For her part, Azar pleads blissful ignorance of current trends, choosing instead to pay her respect to what she considers more urgent, explosive points on the musical chronology.
“We’re sort of living in a bubble,” she confesses. “But those really powerful scenes that happened in the 80’s, like No Wave…I think you just don’t find those anymore.”
Like the No Wave bands, Autolux will probably continue to suffer the “art band” tag, lazily assigned to anyone not bound by the dull tenets and boundaries of “alternative” rock & roll. But what actually lingers most after a few listens to Transit Transit is its unrepentant romanticism, the sense that it might have all been the product of a few nights are particularly vivid and extravagant dreaming. And even when Azar intellectualizes a bit, it’s only to make a point about music’s ethereal and enigmatic hold over our fragile and peculiar humanity.
“There’s a study that I read about in Scientific American,” she recalls, “and it said that the memories that are attached to emotions on the highest level are those associated with music.”
It’s a weird, weird science, to be sure. F