The autoKratz story so far makes them something of a business success in the music world. Their beat-laden records have met with nodded approvals, while remixes of critically acclaimed artists have afforded them kudos. Not long ago, the duo left Kitsuné to start Bad Life, their own record label, on which their album Self Help For Beginners is released.
Since their 2008 debut Down And Out In Paris And London, La Roux and Underworld tracks have been amongst the aforementioned remixes. This third studio album features Kasabian producer Jagz Kooner and guest appearances from Primal Scream guitarist Andrew Innes and New Order bassist Peter Hook. On paper, this should make this record a good bet.
But acumen and clever reinventions aren’t necessary ingredients for sparking the creativity required to stand out in an already saturated guitar-electro market. And it appears David Cox and Russell Crank might’ve known they were battling with many other big fish, because across the 13 tracks – which include two labelled as ‘bonuses’ – they try smidgens of jagged ’80s, ’90s rave and healthy portions of techno. This unfortunately manifests itself as wild indecision over preference for a particular style, and means their skills are spread too thinly, leaving the album unable to carve a niche for itself.
A chunk of the tracks resemble something synth pop trio Filthy Dukes might’ve produced – another band in the same sphere which has also struggled to make a dent, despite sounding more competent than the protagonists in question here. Their hooky notes also hark back to New Order; no surprise owing to Self Help’s choice of guest star, whose jangling indie guitar influence flatters Becoming The Wraith.
The soft, slightly shaky Pet Shop Boys-esque vocals and haunting guitars of Opposite Of Love fare really rather well, and Fireflies’ melancholic, slower paced ’80s bassline is a fitting soundtrack for a story of the inevitability of a break up. But, as the europop Kick and Last Light’s Kraut influences exemplify, there’s a nagging hint of chart cheesiness and a lack of depth among the shallow layers of stripped down beats and synth that the record fails to shake.
A mid-album break also takes Self Help in a completely different direction towards garage techno. Strobes light up marching high hats and insistent solo keyboard notes, with spacey sound effects from the ’90s. The Seventh Seal’s ghostly whispers pump all of those sentiments into the ears with added fires of laser guns. Its ear piercing droplets of sound signal a gnawing guitar bassline that transports the track from turntables to the live stage, like Mancunians The Whip. Meanwhile, Skin Machine squelches but doesn’t capture the rise and fall of Simian Mobile Disco’s Attack Decay Sustain Release, and R.I.S.E doesn’t have the accomplishment of Underworld.
With a stellar cast backing this album, autoKratz should be riding the crest of their self-generated wave, but in Self Help For Beginners they’ve somehow missed it. There are flashes of quality, but the record tries too hard to showcase a varied box of tricks and because of that, lacks the flow that a dance album should build into its very heartbeat.