Recording information: Rancho De La Luna, Palm Desert, CA; Space 2, Los Angeles, CA.
On their third record in twelve years, L.A. alt-rock trio Autolux serve up a stark melding of techno-manipulation and dark-toned experimental pop. The shoegaze label that was often attached to their prior albums feels unsuited for the sonic rabbit hole into which they've descended on Pussy's Dead. Though rarely straightforward, there is plenty of allure in the frosty, but richly detailed aesthetics that color these ten songs. Working with producer Boots, whose studio craft came to the fore on Beyoncé's 2013 self-titled album, Autolux deliver a lonesome, noisy set that veers between the warped digital landscapes of Kid A and Amnesiac-era Radiohead and brash, but sometimes tuneful indie rock. Standout cut "Sellectallcopy" opens the album with an appealingly sad/sweet melodic refrain of "It's so so sad to be happy all the time" as cut-up synths and guitars contort and hiss over a strident beat. The icy robotic creep of lead single "Soft Scene" exhibits the more extreme end of their explorations while the trippy guitar epic "Change My Head" offers the album's hookiest refrain. Throughout the remaining tracks, Autolux work to blend their earlier guitar-based selves with their skittering A.I. counterparts, occasionally succeeding on songs like "Listen to the Order" and "Becker." From a performance standpoint, drummer/singer Carla Azar's inventive kit work is at the heart of Pussy's Dead, often providing a distinctly human, if frenzied, pulse that keeps the proceedings from turning too cold. Conversely, her vocal contributions are overwhelmingly masked and treated almost beyond recognition. As a whole, the album plays out a bit unevenly, with some distinctive artistic peaks and a few mis-plays made in the name of experimentation. Still, with the long gaps (six years) between each of their releases, it's hard to fault Autolux for making a worthy stab at reinvention. ~ Timothy Monger