Apocalyptic Synth Rock by Automatic and Subversive Genre-Splicing by Fire-Toolz

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Automatic, “New start” (throwing stones)

Named after the song of a Go-Go, the Los Angeles trio Automatique surfaced in 2019 with the cold bloodnerves of steel album Signal, a rewarding diversion from the usual production of underground hip-hop label Stones Throw. On this LP, the anomic voice of synthesist Izzy Glaudini adds a cold and detached touch to the band’s linear and deviously melodic approach, underpinned by drummer/vocalist Lola Dompé (daughter of stickman Bauhaus/Love & Rockets/Tones on Tail Kevin Haskins) and bassist Halle Saxon’s pull groove machinations.

Automatic’s second album, Excessrefined Signalthe motorized thrusts and sleek melodic contours of . Rhythms are designed for swift, frictionless transit on moonlit boulevards as synths gleam, shine, and glide with rigorous attention to timbral detail. “Automaton” comes out of the gate elegantly with a starry drone and percolating bassline like that of Joe Jackson’s 1982 mega-hit “Steppin’ Out,” but with more tension. A hypnotic percussive pattern built from Glaudini’s eccentric range of tones gives way to disorienting axes of meaningful sci-fi film effects, revealing a wider sonic palette than before.

On “Realms”, Automatic takes a rare and seductive detour into a brooding ballad, resembling Siouxsie & the Banshees on Quaaludes. “Teen Beat” channels the enchanting “53 Miles West of Venus” energy of the B-52s without sounding like a blatant tribute. With album closing “Turn Away”, Automatic delivers the slight bulge that few people probably thought they had in them. But, again, the overall style is sculptural minimalism derived from first-wave post-punk, compounded by a nonchalant freshness in songcraft and vocals.

Excess culminates on its first cut, “New Beginning,” a song that begins much like the Young Marble Giants’ softly apocalyptic “Final Day” before speeding into a metronomic engraver whose sonically urgent attack – replete with jarring synth hits and catchy applause – epitomizes the lyrics about fleeing a doomed planet and finding another frontier on which to reboot the human race. It’s equally exhilarating and harrowing, a satisfying fusion of words and sounds. And you can dance to it.

Automatic show on Friday, November 11 at the Freakout Festival.

Fire-Toolz, “Soda Lake with Game Genie” (self-published)

Chicago Fire-Toolz (aka enbee musician Angel Marcloid) has been mixing and fusing genres under this handful since 2017. She’s known for slamming stylistic incongruities with perverse ingenuity for labels such as Hausu Mountain and Orange Milk, regularly creating a cult following. To grossly understate things, Fire-Toolz music isn’t for everyone. (Music “for everyone” is a myth, anyway.) But in a world filled with predictable and obviously derivative artists, Marcloid stands out for its completely chameleon-like discography. She also plays or has played in 19 bands and has recorded under even more aliases, creating a wealth of confusion. But Fire-Toolz has become Marcloid’s best-known project and a fascinating entry point into his unique sonic universe.

Fire-Toolz’ band camp page lists 15 genres, which could be a new high. Various extreme strains of electronic music and metal feature prominently in his work, juxtaposed for maximum perplexity. It takes a quick movement of the ear to follow torrent mercurial ideas through a Fire-Toolz track. What sounds like a facsimile of a corny TV movie theme can at any moment be overrun by frantic gabber-techno beats or be interwoven with lava-gargling death-metal screams or turn into a dime in a daydream blissful New Age or smooth-jazz. It’s a cavalcade of post-everything maneuvers that will simultaneously have you laughing at the absurdity and audacity of Marcoloid…and banging your head…and rejoicing.

The latest missive from Fire-Toolz is the seven track EP, I will not be using body eyes today. This hints at what will appear on a feature film due out next year on Hausu Mountain. Not as stylistically omnivorous as previous versions, I won’t be using body eyes today. focuses more on Marcoid’s glitched and IDM textures and quasi-funky beats (“Vedic Software ~ Wet Interfacing” is an exemplary specimen) and ambient soundscape.

“Soda Lake with Game Genie” begins with such a serious and quite explosive flourish, you may feel like you’ve accidentally tuned into a MOR radio station from Dubuque ca. 1983. Then Marcloid gives free rein to his demonic vocals, and the contrast between that larynx-shredding and the distinguished synth motif, heart-rending sax solo and flowery guitar showboating is a LOL WUT moment for the ages. All the while, some villains are beating science into a spin. Then an ambient passage of angelic intensity drifts from a Hollywood movie soundtrack, and your balance has been whipped so artfully that you don’t know what decade it is. Now it is subversion…

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