Before we get started, I’d like to take a brief moment to talk about the role Autolux has played in my life up to this point. In the fall of 2004, I was the Music Director at a radio station that played alternative/indie rock. At one of our weekly meetings, a new guy at the station asked me if I’d ever heard of the band Autolux. He was from California, and they were really starting to make waves out there. Their debut album “Future Perfect” was set to come out a few weeks later, and he played the song “Here Comes Everybody” for me. I was instantly charmed by the band, to the point where “Future Perfect” became something of an obsession. Not only did it become my favorite album of 2004, but also it ranks among my 10 absolute favorite records of the 00s. It was one week ago that I received word the guy who introduced me to Autolux had died, and investigators are saying it was most likely suicide. Sad as that is, especially since he was a good guy, I can’t help but wonder if he had the chance to hear the new Autolux record before his death. This review is dedicated to him, in memoriam.
Being told that your band sounds like a mixture of My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth and Can can’t be easy. In one sense that has to bring a sense of pride, but on another you’ve got to be wondering about the intense pressure that comes with the territory of such comparisons. Such is the burden that the trio known as Autolux have been forced to bear these past several years, all riding on the wave of their 2004 debut album “Future Perfect”. Also stemming from that debut were words of praise and support from such notable artists like Trent Reznor, Thom Yorke and Geoff Barrow, who invited Autolux to play the Portishead-curated UK All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2007. Though the band spent the majority of 2005-07 playing shows around the world, problems started when their Sony-owned record label DMZ went under and they were moved to Epic. It wasn’t long before budget concerns caused Epic to drop a number of artists, Autolux included. They had reportedly finished their second album in early 2008 but had no label to properly distribute it. The album’s first single “Audience No. 2” was released in May of 2008 to both help the band earn a little money and generate interest from other labels. The tough economy didn’t help either, and after whispers of deals being negotiated and album release date after album release date being set, Autolux’s sophmore record “Transit Transit” FINALLY lands in stores this week thanks to TBD/ATP Records. It’s only been 6 years since they first impacted around the globe, surely everyone still remembers them, right?
You’re forgiven if you have forgotten about Autolux, because it has been awhile and they weren’t the highest profile band to begin with. Given their penchant for densely ominous atmospherics blended with blasts of fuzzy electric guitars, Autolux can be forgiven for not attracting the masses. Part shoegaze, part dream pop and part eerie electronica, in 2004 their sound was a novelty and for the most part very backwards-leaning a la the influences mentioned at the beginning of this piece. That’s partly what made “Future Perfect” so exciting when it was released. Since then, the dream pop/shoegaze scene has really taken off into a full-blown revival, and suddenly Autolux is no longer standing relatively alone. Still, this band has massive talents and if anybody can pull off a brilliant resurrection it should be them. This is why the old adage “if you liked it the first time, you’ll like it again the second” pretty genuinely applies to “Transit Transit”. Even if it was recorded in 2007-08 as the band suggests it was, many of the songs that made the final cut have been around since at least ’04, as they were played live back then. Chances are they’ve evolved since their initial inception, but given their relative similarity to the band’s earlier work, one has to wonder exactly how much.
While sonically similar, one of the biggest issues with “Transit Transit” is the number of easily likeable, hook-filled songs. Where “Future Perfect” had moments like “Turnstile Blues”, “Subzero Fun”, “Sugarless” and “Here Comes Everybody” to stick in your head for extended periods of time, there’s little to none of that on “Transit Transit”. “Census” makes a little bit of an impact after a few repeated listens along with “Kissproof” and “Audience No. 2”, but none of them really grab you the same way the earlier stuff does. Part of that has to do with the band’s purposeful avoidance of traditional verse-chorus-verse son structures. In some senses though, this is for the better. The lack of marketable singles is instead replaced by pure atmosphere, which may be dark and moody but is also endlessly compelling. Listening to the album from start to finish is highly recommended, and each individual track sounds better when paired with what comes before and after it. In crafting a tone of such dread, Autolux rely less on the healthy mixture of quiet and noise as they did on “Future Perfect” and choose instead to restrain their louder impulses. Eugene Goreshter’s disaffected vocals play a smart role, as does Carla Azar’s always brilliant drumming and occasional sweet-as-sugar singing. Anytime Azar has the spotlight on her, as with the 6-minute album closer “The Science of Imaginary Solutions”, the album is better for it. But everyone’s contributions are exceptionally strong here, and that’s what keeps this record from being a sharp step down from Autolux’s debut.
After all the delays and trouble Autolux has gone through to bring us “Transit Transit”, you may be left wondering, “Is this it?”. Well, it is, and it will have to do. You’d fare best just pretending that this was any other sophmore effort and forgetting about the timetable. With Autolux’s old school shoegaze/dream pop sound mixed with the wild array of instrumental oddities and electronic skitters, many of the songs have a timeless sort of quality to them anyways. Sadly, without a fair number of captivating hooks or the quiet-loud dynamic of their first album, “Transit Transit” doesn’t quite succeed as well as most might expect. Yes, the mood is perfect all the way through, but in terms of repeat value this can be a little challenging. If “Future Perfect” was one of the better records of the last decade, “Transit Transit” will be lucky if it’s remembered once December’s year-end listmaking season arrives. It’s most definitely worth any time and money you spend on it, but this is ultimately a record from a band looking towards the next evolution of their sound. In other words, as the title itself hints, transition is the name of the game. Whether it’s the seamless movement from one track to the next or from record label to record label, Autolux is moving on. Let’s hope the next album doesn’t take 6 years to be released, and that it marks the start of a bold new era for a band that makes the comparisons to other legendary acts almost entirely justified.