Automatic Music - "And In Arcadia I Am" (Szum Music 2000, CIRCUIT 1)
Automatic Music - "This Is Automatic Music" (Szum Music 2000, CIRCUIT 2c)
Automatic Music - "In A Dollhouse" (Szum Music 2000, CIRCUIT 3)
From Aural Innovations #14 (January 2001)
Now here's an interesting band. There is a good bit of diversity across these three CD's from Ash Ra Tempel/Guru Guru/Can influenced Krautrock jams, to dirty bluesy rockers, to chaotic avant garde experimentations. There's no information about the band on the CD's but an email to the Szum folks revealed that Automatic Music is a collaborative effort of many musicians from North Carolina led by Fred Hall and Ed Shepherd. And In Arcadia I Am opens strongly with "One". Funky rhythm guitar and drums lay down the beat, and a second guitar is soon introduced with searing space lines that quickly become jamming solos, the whole ensemble very reminiscent of Can and maybe even Ash Ra Tempel. These guys have got to be influenced by the old Krautrock masters. The guitar sounds change a lot, not necessarily smoothly, as the band seems to be trying to include a laundry list of cool old time sounds. At various points in this 9-minute track I heard synths and I think I heard flute too.
"Egglant", is a trippy space guitar journey, though I think there may be synths too. Lots of cosmic washes of space matter floating, falling, and hurtling through the galaxies and creating some beautiful head music. My only complaint is that I was diggin' the ride and the track stopped abruptly as if the tape were cut. "Three" is another psychedelic space jam that is both harsh and floating. Trippy fuzzed and wah'd guitars along with strumming acoustic guitars come together for a nicely spaced mix.
Automatic Music also have a bluesy edge as evidenced by "Half & Half" and "Mole Hillbilly Music". "Half & Half" is a bluesy psych jam. It's pretty raw and plodding but combined with the previous tracks I'm now reminded more of Ash Ra Tempel recalling how they did both cosmic jams and bluesier rock music as well. "Mole Hillbilly Music" is a strange quirky dirty bluesy rock tune. It keeps stopping and starting again with the same theme so I kept thinking the next track was coming on. The guitar solos sound a bit funny though as if a kid who has a bit to learn is wholeheartedly cranking out solos. Rounding out the set is the quiet and subtle "Herbert", with its plodding bassline that sets the pace for spacey guitar noodlings. "Blue Noise" is a somewhat disorganized chaotic noise jam. And "This May End At Anytime" is a slow keyboard piece backed by shimmering guitar.
Though And In Arcadia I Am has its weak moments, I was sufficiently intrigued by the stronger tracks to dive headlong into the other two discs. This Is Automatic Music features similar music and some that is different, my favorite tracks being "Fear The Panda" and "2 Marcels". "Fear The Panda" is a cool psych bluesy screeching guitar jam with dark screaming vocals. It's good but the real winner is "2 Marcels", which has a strong spacey, atmospheric, trippy, classic Krautrock feel that recalls the days of early Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel. There's quite a bit happening across the track's 16 minute length including industrial weirdness and speak-in-tongues vocals, lots of very interesting guitar work, and passages with varied avant experimentations. The band covers a lot of ground, perhaps too much, but I felt that they segue between segments much more smoothly than on a lot of their other pieces.
The rest of the disc features some interesting diversity and more electronic music than the first disc has. "Jade Garden" is a quirky rocker with freaky electronic rhythms. "Terra Forming", though less than 2-minutes long, is a good dancey electronic piece that I would have liked to heard further developed. "The Divine & Demonic Natures" is a jazzy, bluesy, avant-classical, and atmospheric piano and keyboard dominated piece. Probably the most melodic tune I've heard from these guys yet. And "New Autumn Blue" is an experimental track with tribal percussion, ascending/descending drones, and wailing guitars.
Automatic Music's third outing, In A Dollhouse, is a bit different containing some of their most experimental music of the three discs. But it also has some of their most rockin' music as well. "Divisions Of Industry" is a mixture of dark drones, various crashing sounds, and noodling acoustic stringed instruments that sound like bazoukis. The music transitions nicely between harsh and atmospheric segments and near the end I hear a jam segment that reminds me of an old Guru Guru tune I can't recall the title of. An abstract avant-spacey voyage. "Wherehouse 4/00" is a raw rockin' jam that reminded me of both early Guru Guru and the Allman Brothers. The recording on this track isn't so hot (I think it's live) so I don't think I benefited fully from the tune. It's sequel, "Wherehouse 4/00-2", is a bluesier and more straight rockin' version of the first, but still has lots of psych elements and cool dirty guitar sounds. Along similar lines is the blues trip rocker "Dark Matter". And "It's About Time, It's About Space" feature heavy drone spacerock.
The album's epic is "Magician & Missionary", a collage of avant experimentations that has it's interesting moments but doesn't justify its 20 minute length. In fact, I got lost pretty early. There was just too much that came across as chaotic noodling and the transitions from one segment to another were less than smooth. "Small Business Concerns" and "Missed You Again" are similar tracks, though "Small Business Concerns", at a more manageable 5 minutes, struck me as being what "Magician & Missionary" could have been. It combines multiple repeating and slowly developing guitar patterns to make music that is busy but dreamy. So these folks can be creatively weird though it doesn't always work.
In summary, Automatic Music is raw and definitely have their strong and weak points, though what seems like the participation of several different musicians would seem to explain the variances in style and quality. Still, these guys have definitely got potential and their hearts are in the right place to be sure. Krautrock fans should check them out and not worry about whether you like the other tracks or not. Start with And In Arcadia I Am or This Is Automatic Music.
Automatic Music is distributed by Szum Music. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact via snail mail at 4970 Randleman Rd; Greensboro, NC 27406.
Some limited band info and a sound file can be found at the Automatic Music IUMA page.
Information is also available at Bret Hart's InstrumenTales web site.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz