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Automatic - Signal Music Album Reviews

The trio’s debut is an exercise in post-punk and no-wave galvanism crafted from throbbing bass, tight-zipped drumbeats, and buzzing synths.

If Los Angeles trio Automatic had been around in 1978, they’d probably play at the same clubs as their hometown heroes the Go-Go’s—they’re named after the band’s ominous 1982 single. On “Automatic,” Belinda Carlisle hovers over every word like Victor Frankenstein awaiting his monster’s first breath. “No thought, automatic,” her voice clicks. The sentiment is still menacing today, with our necks craned over our phones. With every hypnotic bassline and quotidian criticism on their debut album Signal, Izzy Glaudini, Lola Dompé, and Halle Saxon carry the torch of post-punk precision.


The band also has a personal connection to this era of foreboding stares and doomy lyricism: Their percussive engine Lola Dompé is the daughter of Bauhaus drummer Kevin Haskins. Automatic prefer brighter colors, but Signal has a fair amount of darkness and even spookiness to it. The band’s first collection of songs since forming in 2017 is an exercise in post-punk and no-wave galvanism, setting chilly motorik rhythms against contemplations of zombie robots and death.

Automatic are minimalists crafting songs with mostly throbbing bass, tight-zipped drumbeats, and synths that evoke the buzz of neon lighting. Album standout “Highway,” which recalls New Order’s “Blue Monday,” has only one lyric (“I drive all night”) but the music captures the restless desire to escape. The drumbeat has the crunchy propulsion of tires running over gravel; shallow bleeps emerge and recede like stripes of road paint. Though most of the production is sparse and controlled, Signal is rich with late-’70s genre influence: “Humanoid” references the psychedelic goth-rock of Bauhaus or Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop,” while the eerie vocals and post-punk morbidity of “Suicide in Texas” are reminiscent of Joy Division.

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A fog of apathy plagues Signal. It’s in the repetitive nights out on “Strange Conversations,” the stubborn romantic proclamation of “I Love You, Fine,” and one particularly depressing assertion from lead single “Calling It”: “Emotion is always out of reach.” Glaudini’s deadpan lead vocal suggests the trio has given up hope, or that their hearts have been taken over by a tangle of wires and chrome. “Oh look at me/Machinery of modern life,” goes the anxious title track. We’re all another cog in the machine. “It’s not enough to be alive,” Glaudini chirps. She’s looking “through satellites or lonely nights unsatisfied” for a guiding mechanical transmission. By song’s end, she’s drawn “to wash away the man” in her. Does she seek to scrub away the stains of masculinity, or of humanity?

Automatic would be at home in the late ’70s, but their nostalgic, mechanical sound paired with ruminations on cyborgism eventually feel tired and directionless. When Glaudini recounts a jarring transformation on “Humanoid,” her hopelessness is just casual, without stakes. “Signal” and “Electrocution,” the latter inspired by a real-life near-death experience, are gloomy romps with a purposeful sense of dread. But by album’s end, the mesmerizing buzz becomes a numbing sedative. Automatic wrestle with preserving humanity, but at times it seems they’re barely fighting for theirs.


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