Twelve years is an unequivocally long time in which to release three albums, a fact that the members of Autolux must be aware of more than anybody else. Autolux’s new release, Pussy’s Dead, emerges six years after its predecessor, Transit Transit, and 12 after 2004’s Future Perfect. For comparison, since Future Perfect, Lil B brought out a total of 47 mixtapes.
The band have had a decidedly long time to brew over the direction of their second LP, and what results from their deliberations sounds somewhat of a way away from Transit Transit, which was itself a divergence in the band’s sound, a mellower album of studio experimentation, of slow builds and climaxes, OK Computer to Future Perfect’s The Bends, if you will.
Meanwhile Kid A probably serves as the best starting point for approaching Pussy’s Dead. Aside from any sonic similarities the two may share, Radiohead’s fourth album is the seminal work to consider for a group formed as a guitar-bass- drums rock band setting aside their guitars and approximating electronica, learning new instruments as they go, starting afresh. But more precisely than that, the story of Kid A is that of the band that makes a goal for themselves to set aside their guitars, cast aside The Beatles and The Smiths, swear themselves to DJ Shadow and Aphex Twin, and who then (most importantly) don’t manage to fully complete the project, and don’t have the technical competency to replicate the latter totally accurately.
What comes out is the result of – and sounds like – a band trying to disguise themselves in the studio, while the band remains a rock band, although critics tend to focus disproportionately on the more radically new elements. BOOTS, famous for his work on Beyoncé’s self-titled, and fresh from working on FKA Twigs’s EP M3LLI55X, is Autolux’s Nigel Godrich on the album. And his presence is warmly felt as the band’s honorary fourth member: the best parts of Pussy’s Dead are actively structured around computer-generated drops and breaks, taking programmed drum loops and synth bass as their foundation and forming a song around that, taking the place of sections where the Autolux of 2004 and Future Perfect would have centred the track around outbreaks of guitar noise or heavy choruses.
The record sometimes manages perfectly the technique of translating each part of Autolux’s musical language onto this new soundscape. The impressive rhythm section of Carla Azar (drums) and Eugene Goreshter (bass) fits fluidly around the electronic programming and form the record’s foundation, with the early trio of Soft Scene, Hamster Suite and Junk For Code a powerful, trip-hoppy section of the album whose instrumental holds up without the vocal.
This is fortunate, as the lyrics can pale a little in comparison to the music, having a susceptibility to the frustratingly vague or vacuous at times (“it’s oh so sad to be happy all the time” from Selectallcopy), while jarringly specific lines (“a boxcar tipped over, buried two white girls” from Junk For Code, or “She fell off a cliff on Sunday, it sure was a freefall” on Brainwasher) jut out of the mix at others.
Towards the second half of the album, there’s the sense of listening to a thoroughly tampered-with work, and it’s something of a struggle to see how much content the final product’s been made out of; Brainwasher returns the band to a jammier, freer sound, but like another Carla Azar-sung track, Reappearing, or Greg Edwards’ Listen To The Order, it repeats sections and doesn’t have much of a hook or basis to riff off. Change My Head has been in the works for 15 years (!); a version of the lo-fi Future Perfect from 2001’s EP Demonstration, it reappears here in a none-too-changed form, the extended outro’s Beatles-style psychedelia coming across positively conservative compared to the LP’s futuristic openings.
Closer Becker returns the record to its mechanised opening, progressing from an Elliott Smith style lone acoustic guitar to a synth-meltdown, finishing the album with an electronic collapse. Twelve years may have been time to labour too much over some ideas, but there are core moments to this that show an intelligent and important band still stretching the parameters of what’s possible for a rock outfit.