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Automato - Walk Into the Light

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Artist: Automato

Album: Walk Into the Light

Label: Dim Mak

Review date: Dec. 7, 2003

Automato are an interesting beast. Ostensibly a hip hop band, a la The Roots, Youngblood Brass Band or Dujeous?, this is true insofar as they operate their own instruments. The differences, however, abound. Unlike their peers, Automato do not use hip stage names, a cardinal sin in marketing, if not exactly in hip hop. Their full roster simply reads Jesse Levine, Ben Fries, Alex Frankel, Nick Millhiser, Andrew Raposo and Morgan Wiley. Levine is the microphone controller, and the rest play a diverse mix of bass, guitar, keyboard, drums, sampler, etc.

It’s this wealth of instrumentation that makes their debut single Walk into the Light an entity in its own right. Eschewing the simple loops and heavy bass formula of rap, they opt for a more tonally focused arrangement, keeping their ideas rhythm-centric while incorporating shifts from guitar riffs to bass lines to piano loops and beyond. This creates an evolving and interesting soundscape, but one which does not illicit the usual head nod you’d expect from the genre.

Levine’s lyrics bring his crew back into the genre’s fold, but his penchant for abstraction won’t win him a Source exposé. His flow and rhymes are decent enough, if a little hard to penetrate (e.g., I know “Walk into the Light” has something to do with sex, but that’s about it). To complicate things further, Automato are produced by Tim Goldsworthy and James Murphy of the DFA. In a culture where producer simply means “beatmaker,” this is not only unusual, it adds a rare aura of refinement.

Between Levine’s lyrics and the other members instrumentation, Automato have created a pastiche of hip hop rhythm and rhyme, added to it a rock sensibility, and come up with what I can best describe as jam band rap. That isn’t exactly flattering, but “Walk into the Light” is not exactly amazing. It is interesting, and hard to pin down, but not something I can profess to love.

Jumbo the Garbageman from the Lifesavas supplies the beat for the remix, creating a stark counterpoint to Automato’s sound. Utilizing heavy drums, sparse horns, and a nice reverbing synth sample, he brings the head nod factor back with a vengeance. Though I think he makes a mistake by putting a distortion filter over Levine’s vocals, the song is gritty and driving and outshines the live mix.

Automato’s befuddling of categories is refreshing, but it would be nice to see more focus from their music. They have all the elements in place, but don’t seem to have figured out how to stack them. Walk into the Light hovers in a gray area, dabbling in diversity like a Republican at Scribble Jam. If the full length is more cohesive, their genre-bending will be something to check out.

By Owen Strock

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