A demi-glace is a really fancy condiment whose ingredients call for a mixture of equal parts veal stock and “brown sauce” (usually sauce espangnole). You prepare this by mixing and simmering until you’re left with a tiny portion of the essentials (a character on the ‘90s dramedy Northern Exposure once boiled 40 cows for his magical version of the recipe). Autolux’s music is similar: the best parts of their peers and influences (i.e. the textural complexity and tender abrasion of shoegaze, rhythm-heavy Krautrock jams, the lugubrious, smoldering tension of slowcore, postpunk’s darkness) meet, bubble, fizz and seethe off the fat to produce compact, four-minute-average, unpredictable songs framed in a “pop” form.
Though adhering to this formula/non-formula, this self-produced long-time-comin’ sophomore release relies on an even more augmented eclecticism than their 2004 guitar-driven Future Perfect (not better or worse, just OK Computer to The Bends differences) The trio, bassist/vocalist Eugene Goreshter, guitarist/vocalist Greg Edwards and drummer/vocalist Carla Azar, frames the title track opener with a thumping fridge sample, allowing an antique piano to fill the hall, Edwards’ oddly distorting voice to pierce and angelic choirs to duet with shadowy affected trumpets. They blister “Census” with a polytonal guitar hook, Goreshter’s monstrous fuzz bass, Azar’s pounding breakdowns and whispered “doo doo” – and still leave some room for toy piano at the cadences. “Highchair” slinks to muted square waves, ticking drum machine, tribal tom-toms, dubby vocals, otherworldly evolving synthetic leads and tiny snatches of sounds that scatter to the sonic corners. On “Spots”, Edwards mournfully croons to a full string section, Azar’s booming brush strokes and a distant, dying guitar; the singer perfectly describes the mood with the line “it made me feel drunk and sad”.
When they do rock, the group is smart and thankfully avoids traditional dumb riffs: they build to a storm on “Audience No. 2”, but the gesture is multi-faceted, decaying, wobbly, with Azar focusing her rhythm on a tricky paradiddle (hauntingly reminiscent of Can’s “Mushroom”); the bouncing surf-like “Kissproof” squeals with a spate of feedback over the verse / chorus structure, but the effect pedal combinations and production tweaks (i.e. increasing reverb on the drums toward the climax) give the track intrigue.
As you can tell by the frantic amount of touting adjectives and attempt to label the trio’s work, Autolux is a chaotic anomaly that music journalists strive to understand. Why do we want you to understand? Because you too need to experience (now for the non sequitur barstool rambles) the desperate love, “holy crap, this is amazing” moments and Jack Black circa High Fidelity “it’s…really fucking good,” sighs.
(And if you do listen, I promise to never again compare an amazing band to five tons of melting bovine parts.)