In response to Katie Heffring’s review of “Transit Transit” on September 3, Lisa Sookraj is now offering her spin…(Check out the Sept. 3 review here)
There are two camps when it comes to the long-awaited sophomore release from L.A.’s Autolux – those who are disappointed with the new direction the band has taken, and those who will appreciate it for its atmosphere and minimalism. I fall somewhere closer to the former, but still somewhat in between. As with many new releases from bands that were once amongst my favorites, I was let down by this release, yet it’s still a relatively good album by new music standards. And if I didn’t expect some modern, innovative knock-me-on-my-ass post-punk from Autolux, I would think it was even better.
The other thing I should note is that a lot of bands I like are ‘softening’ their sound, or as it is often put, ‘maturing’. However, I don’t believe it’s immature to rock it in a unique way, which Autolux did with their prior release Future Perfect (2004). I personally still believe in what I call ‘intelligent-heavy’. Does ‘growing up’ have to mean normaling out and slowing down? It would seem for many bands, yes. I suppose my argument would be that there was no risk of Autolux’s sound growing ‘old’ or ‘stale’ yet, particularly after such a long wait for their second release. On the other hand, the longer a band goes without a new album, the more pressure there is for it to be ‘worth the wait.’
This album is definitely a departure, while maintaining some of Autolux’s trademark sound. The slower songs take up more of the album, while they were a minority on their first. Gone are the energetic, rockin’, catchy anthems. Replaced instead by something that feels more like Codeine than a harder, more illicit drug. The sound is stifled, less addictive, more restricted. Straight-jacketed, lacking the forward, progressive momentum of Future Perfect. There is less happening on Transit Transit, the band having opted for a pared down electronic sound.
Autolux’s debut is one of my most listened to albums of all time. Titled Future Perfect – the album is just that, both progressive and perfect. I would hope Transit Transit is also reflective of its title – only a state between two places. I respect the band’s decision to change their sound yet these songs are far less memorable, lost in the muddle of the countless bands taking the ‘ambient’ route these days. Not to say that Autolux doesn’t pull it off, and not to say those who have never checked out this band shouldn’t. However, Transit Transit sounds more like a first album from Autolux, while their actual first album, cogent yet chaotic, sounds like their second.
Transit Transit, like most electronic/ambient music, is meant to be listened to on good speakers or, ideally, live. I attended their Montreal show and enjoyed the album far more than while at home. There was a more static, textured fullness, and definitely more energy than on the album itself. This is often the case with live music. I would go see Autolux again, but rarely feel in the mood to listen to Transit Transit at home.
Strong points, as always, are the spacey sounds that come in the form of synths and effect pedals, the melt-into-your-couch sweetness of Eugene’s vocals, Carla’s rolling drums and Greg Edward’s layered, distorted guitar. The staples of Autolux remain here, though highly subdued. There is clearly skill here, but how it all comes together is lackluster. Despite good moments, things don’t come to the head you would expect; never reaching the climactic burst that seems to be forthcoming, and being left wanting (particularly after such a long wait) is a horrible feeling.
The last track, “The Science of Imaginary Solutions,” is a great example of this. A build of elements, good guitar riffs and fuzzy, futuristic synths, but instead of breaking into something unexpected and impressive – it wusses out into tired vocals. This is the case with many songs on Transit Transit. The slow songs, such as the title track and “Spots,” are beautiful though anticlimactic. Sleepy, sensory ballads that lack the punch of the slow tracks on Future Perfect.
The overall sense of the album is trancelike. “Highchair” has a pared down groove to it that sounds like a song off Radiohead’s In Rainbows. The rhythmic guitar loop in “Headless Sky” and the driving guitar and drumbeat of “Kissproof” are also reminiscent of Radiohead’s leveled, detached sound. “Supertoys,” the first single off the album, is closer to old Autolux musically thanks to its velocity and ups and downs. The outro is the most energetic part, with layered vocals and a great guitar solo punctuated by an otherworldy synth sound.
Highlights on this album are the songs that are more ‘traditional’ Autolux. A sound akin to Failure (Greg Edwards’ band from the ’90s.) The best track on the album is the song “Audience no. 2” because it has it all; The old Autolux meets the new Autolux, a great bridge leading into the chorus, dreamy, distant vocals and compelling lyrics. The majority of the song is sparse, but then we get a rockin’ chorus, feedback and reverb. Though slow, it’s also heavy and exhibits an explosive sort of energy. Typical of old Autolux, the music feels off kilter. This song sonically captures a disjointed sense of being.
If you’re a fan of Deerhunter, I could see this album appealing to you, but if you’re yearning for some new post-’90s-esque rock, less so. That said, if you were a fan of Autolux before, you should check this out. If you weren’t, perhaps even more so. But either way, it still beats the majority of new music out there today.