~reviewed by John Hyland (dj SpinMonkey)
(band photo by Jasper E. Coolidge)
I have to admit, when I first listened to Autodrone my immediate response was “Bleargh,” followed by the skitter-skitter of a CD case being coasted across my desk to the back of the “to review” pile. Between the monotonous vocals and obnoxious droning background noise, I just couldn’t find any reason to like it: they sounded like a garage band with diarrhea of the lead guitar. For the sake of thoroughness, I read their press sheet and consulted my research assistant, Mr. Google, who turned up the tale of a fledgling indy/dream-pop/experimental performance-art band from New York. Apparently, they give very entertaining concerts, but that didn’t particularly improve my opinion of the record.
After a week or so of listening to other albums, I eventually worked my way back to Autodrone and found, to my considerable surprise, that it wasn’t horrible. In fact, I sort of liked it. Somehow, I was suddenly impressed by the earnest shoegazer quality of the lyrics and the smoothly turned vocals that floated over a rough guitar soundscape. I think part of the trick is that I accidentally skipped the first track, “Forward Fever,” which remains unpleasantly discordant even after repeated listening. On the other hand, I can’t explain why I ever disliked Susana Mendelez’s smoky, intense singing voice - she’s most of the reason I’m still listening to this album, especially on the later, more sedate tracks like “Entertainment” and especially “Exit.” Speaking of which, the last track, “Exit,” is easily the high point of the LP. In it, the slightly jarring drone that seems ever-present throughout the rest of the album is trimmed back to give those sultry vocals room to play, and Angel Eagleston finally shines on the bass guitar. The smoother, more melodic approach to the bulk of this track keeps it from being “just another garage band song,” and it gives the harsher edge a lot more impact when they do bring it back in.
All in all, this is a hard album to summarize. It is not simple, universally accessible pop pablum, and it isn’t easily pegged in to any one genre. There’s a harsh edge that isn’t going to appeal to everybody, and it’s not as polished as it could be. On the other hand, who’s really looking for polish in indy rock? For people who like dream-pop or shoegazer and don’t mind an edgier sound, Autodrone is at least worth checking out. Go to the web site. Download some of the mp3s. Listen to them a few times, even if they don’t seem immediately fantastic. This isn’t my favorite album of the year, but there’s a lot to like for those who take the time to listen for it.