by Emma Behnke (@ween_ebooks)
Autolux is an experiment in approaching songwriting with a film composer’s precise touch. The trio is at their best when tinkering with sound, how much it can be complexified, how the landscape can be modified. As a disclaimer—I understand the production process very little, and can only shrug and describe it as “alchemic.” However, with Boots (Beyoncé, Run the Jewels) as a producer, Carla Azar’s precise, hip-hop influenced playing style in particular is elevated to pure witchcraft. Pussy’s Dead feels like a richer and more faithful articulation of what Autolux attempted with 2010’s Transit Transit, an album that does an excellent job flirting with the texture that Broadcast mastered a few years before, but falls flat under its own complexity.
Greg Edwards’ knack for transmogrifying keyboard parts into guitar solos is particularly successful on glitchier songs like “Junk For Code” and “Soft Scene,” which mimic the likes of trip-hop and dub outfits Portishead and Underworld. “Selectallcopy” builds off Eugene Gorester’s lumbering, insistent bass tone. It’s the rare type of song that’s so grounded you want to eschew your own reality to live inside it. “Change My Head” is a bizarre little pop song that Edwards wrote in the late nineties. Autolux included the song on their early demo tape under a different title, but finalized it on this release. Failure fans tend to be deeply entrenched in the mythology surrounding the recording of Fantastic Planet—a set of songs as fragile and clairvoyant as they are aggressive. There’s a comforting symmetry to Edwards’ guitar work on “Change My Head,” which is very, very similar to what he plays on “The Nurse Who Loved Me,” except it’s brighter and less compressed. It’s these developments in craft that make ultra-fandom so exhilarating: the architects never stop meddling, and if you watch closely, you can trace their process.
Bands like Autolux have to avoid the “grocery store orchid” conundrum: a reverb drenched, layered piece can sound lovely in the studio, but wilt when removed from the specific hothouse conditions under which it was created. However, with this release they pull back and maintain consistency. Though the band seems to have moved beyond blacktaping the pedalboards for mystique—there’s plenty of studio magic to spare. I highly suggest reading Autolux’s recent Reddit AMA, where fans reveal that they’ve reversed, pitch shifted, and inverted the band’s songs just to figure out how certain effects were achieved (don’t knock it till you try it).
Though Pussy’s Dead lacks the big, sweeping shoegaze melodies that make 2004’s Future Perfect so captivating—it feels authentically Autolux: balancing a blackjack dealer’s level of focus with the dissociative sensuality of a headrush. It’s gentle, wry, and intelligent. And yeah, it sounds pretty good backwards too.