Have you ever wondered what famous musicians do when they’re not making music with the band you love so much, reader? Sometimes it’s fun to muse that the lives of those musicians is totally unbelievable; in their spare time, for example, they pal around with other rock stars and are inspired by those friends to make some very unusual but fantastic music which really showcases the scope of their talent. Images like that are fun to imagine and, at least in Automat‘s case, they prove to be true in listening to the band’s self-titled debut.
For the unfamiliar, Automat is the pet project of Einsturzende Neubauten guitarist Jochen Abeit, Phillip Boa drummer Achin Färber and radio dramatist zeitblom. On their debut LP, they have pooled that collective wealth of creative matter and experimental energy into an electronic stew of deep beats and textural rhythms that prove to be flawlessly hypnotic. It’s so good, in fact, that listeners will find it impossible to even think about turning the stereo off after the record begins to play and impossible to turn away from the music; it’s actually difficult to divert one’s gaze from straight forward. It’s a beautiful and seductive exercise and, with the help of guest contributors Lydia Lunch, Nick Cave co-conspirator Blixa Bargeld and Throbbling Gristle alumnus Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, presents itself as a rare gem of a cut seldom seen.
With the band’s pedigree in mind, many listeners will be walking into the album with expectations already high but Automat surpasses them all. Immediately from the beginning of “THF” the serpentine strains of vintage electro-goth slither out and immediately recall the great old glories of all the members involved, but rather than building into some sort of trite nostalgic explosion or even coiling for an attack, the band titillates listeners by smoldering suggestively throughout the album’s run-time. Surprisingly, that’s all it takes to be satisfying too; tracks like “SXF” and “TXF” glow white hot as they simultaneously seem to boil under, and “Mount Tamalpais” makes the best use of P-Orridge’s mature voice (which will rightly draw comparisons to the wooden and hollow tone once made famous by William S. Burroughs) to really breathe life into a stirring psychodrama. Those sorts of tracks are the meat of Automat’s running and would make for a satisfying exercise on their own, but the real treats are the tracks on which Lydia Lunch and Blixa Bargeld appear. Now showing every ounce of her fifty-four years in her ravaged esophagus, Lunch appears tattered but still definitely in fighting form as she hisses and growls suggestively around a bassline which inches close to the bottomless tone usually reserved for dub reggae recordings before Bargeld plays her incredibly urbane, ‘gentleman killer’ counterpart on “AM Schlachtensee.” In each of those cases, listeners who were already hooked by Automat’s rolling, guttural rhythm will find fantastic images develop in their collective mind’s eye as the vocal tone (more than the actual dialogue) offered by the singers helps to craft an all-new level of menace and theatricality in Automat. It isn’t essential to the album, but it’s definitely welcome.
After one more three-letter movement to sum the proceedings up (“GWW” – which feels like the longest and more languid movement on the record), Automat leaves listeners to try and reconcile what they’ve just heard.