The critical response to Autolux’s first album Future Perfect was more or less a collective “Yeah, why not?” It was a ‘good album’, but good in a way thousands of other ‘good albums’ were before. It was like the band had followed a manual to craft serviceable art rock, and that made it fairly aggravating to review. On one hand, the record didn’t have anything really substantial, important, or even all that interesting in it, but on the other it was virtually impossible to attack. Its only weak point was just how extraneous it was.
All of this went down back in 2004 of course, and it certainly doesn’t seem like Autolux’s presence has shone through the extended hiatus. Transit Transit has gone un-hyped and un-heralded in the months preceding release, and the indie crowd seems to be having some difficulty remembering what this band was ‘about’ in the first place.
But that doesn’t mean Transit Transit can’t be good. Despite their blatant homogeneity, there was a reason people latched on to Autolux back when they were a ‘next big thing’. The record does a solid job of accentuating the band’s stylistic strengths while still managing to evolve in a few thoughtful ways. The title track opener is a quiet homage to the band’s previous album, but sounds more ‘written’ than their other work; expertly timing skittering drum patterns and tech-slanted vocals into a beautifully ringing three minute song. It is moments like that where Autolux’s existence is entirely justified; these songwriting tricks may not be new per ce, but the band handles them so deftly that you hardly notice their derivative nature.
Transit Transit is a very idea-focused album, with each track a structure whose foundation lies in a very specific sound. The prime example is Headless Sky, which builds a shimmering, wintery chorale out of a sole, edited guitar loop – listening to the song develop into itself is a very rewarding experience. Autolux works with sparseness very well here. The hanging, gorgeous Spots and the pop-minded, feedback-splashed closer The Science Of Imaginary Solutions are immediate highlights, and they both use the empty space in the mix to create deeper textures than the average rock band. It’s only when the band gets close to their cluttered, ’90s, My Bloody Valentine-informed influences where they start to sound dull. Supertoys and Census get lost in a mish-mash of downcast guitars and stormy drums, and they don’t have the same level of fragility that makes many of the other songs worth paying attention to. The more sound they make, the less effective their music is.
It’s a little hard to figure out who exactly Transit Transit is for; it’s a mathematical, music-major listen, but not on the level someone of that disposition would really find especially satiating. It doesn’t have enough pop in its DNA for the unobtrusive easy-listening crowd, and it simply isn’t divergent enough for anyone looking for anything remarkably new. It is, however, an album you can play start to finish, with a definite end and beginning. It sounds crafted in a way a lot of albums aren’t, and for that at least, Autolux deserves respect.