Autolux – Transit Transit
It is remarkable that artists don’t crumble between the unrelenting jaws of the information age. Society’s capacity for consumption is limitless, and the rate at which talent is expected to produce inspired work cannot possibly meet these standards. There is no omnipotent musical power or band-to-beat – the Pink Floyds and the Led Zeppelins have met their heyday, and now there are ten bands doing what one band did well only a couple of months ago. Combine that with a poor salary to work with unless you’re writing songs for Miley Cyrus or fiddling with autotune, and one must wonder, how do these bands do it?
LA’s Autolux released a single album back in 2004, titled Future Perfect, and didn’t release another one for six years – that’s a gap in which the average band could have already put out three albums. While it was met with praise, the question remains whether this band managed to maintain its relevance over this extensive time period. Autolux released a track in May of 2008, titled “Audience No.2”, and if that was any indication of where the band was headed, it was already evident that they were bound for even greener pastures. The single alone was already quite different from their previous work – its hooks almost didn’t feel like hooks, as there was much more of a focus on atmosphere, rather than the dynamics of Future Perfect. The new full-length release follows very much in this direction, but takes it a step further with its significantly darker sound. Transit Transit is still the same Autolux, but a slightly different taste – it maintains the seductive Sonic Youth-esque air that Future Perfect had, but bares the band to its cold, naked essentials with a certain vulnerability akin to that of Radiohead. In this sense, it is a much more human album than its predecessor, as the latter felt almost invincible with its grappling, bright hooks and catchy chorus lines, but Transit Transit shows this once glowing ego, shattered – it is almost as if they echo this sentiment in the dissonant, yet serene “Supertoys” chorus, with it’s alright, it’s ok, just let it be broken.
The new record is also far superior in production, which should be quite surprising, considering what a good job was done with their debut. It simply accomplishes more in what was intended of the sound – the synthy, lush guitar tones are perfect accompanied by the deep, viscous bass tones, and the beautiful slide and roll of Carla Azar’s drums has necessary presence, but isn’t even slightly overpowering. Especially, considering that Azar was told she’d never play drums again – after the injury she conceived from falling off the stage at a show – her contribution to Autolux’s sound has truly been heroic. On Future Perfect, she proved herself an impressive musician, who strives not to produce the most technical of arrangements, but to write creative, yet complex music. Transit Transit sees her further applying this methodology, but somehow becoming even more innovative. For instance, in “High Chair” there is a simple hip-hop-like groove up until the end of the song, where Azar builds on it with another, more complex pattern – the whole album is very much like this, in the sense that, like the majority of bands layer with guitar work, Autolux are very beat-oriented and thus build more on that side of the spectrum. Even on “Spots”, the band builds around an entrancing pattern, as it closes, that gives just a taste of the fantastic phrasing Carla Azar has to offer with her drum work. For someone who was told they’d never drum again, she should be of inspiration to all musicians, for coming off even stronger on her band’s late-sophomore release, as should the rest of the band, for supporting her and having the confidence and will-power to finish such a fine work.
So, are Autolux still relevant? One voice can’t speak for everyone, but based on all that has been said, this reviewer will have to go for a resounding yes. More importantly, they are the bird in the flock that doesn’t belong, and that is something that they should be proud of. Very few bands have made such a convincing return after one album, and after such a long hiatus, let alone put out what is easily one of 2010’s most compelling releases yet.