Automato Automato

[Coup de Gråce/Dim Mak; 2004]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: hip-hop, rap
Others: The Roots, Luscious Jackson, Beastie Boys, Cinematic Orchestra

The fundamental idea behind Automato, a six-pack of stage-nameless New Yorkers, is creating hip-hop music in an organic manner. Utilizing only live instruments with subtle touches of turntable/computer, their goal (I'm assuming) is to mirror the role of the producer, but in a band environment where everyone involved has their own piece to bring to the table. The sound they produce is strictly East Coast and brings to mind comparable pioneers of the field such as The Roots and Beastie Boys (without the blatant comedic overtones). Mind you, Automato sounds different than both of these previously mentioned acts; but like both of them, they forgo the idea that only one person should be responsible for the outcome of their music.

Handing over the production duties to the DFA duo, Automato shows a slightly different end result to a vastly populated genre of beat-driven music. In a time when producers pride themselves in making hip-hop that is abstract and progressive, these guys take a different route and do a fine job of playing things safe. Now, this may be a bad thing to some; but it may also very well be a good thing to others. Automato shows great potential to be marketed to a larger range of audience than most of the hip-hop being released in the underground. But for those who like a bit more anger and/or "street" in their hip-hop, be forewarned that this might not appeal to you.

Many of the songs share the same characteristics: blunted bass, organic head-bobbing beat, keyboard filler, and emceeing. Occasionally there are great moments when they utilize turntable scratching (which is slowly becoming a lost art form — unless the whole album is dedicated to it) to give a bit of depth to the album. And Automato even gets off track from time to time. Surprisingly enough, it's when the guys get off track that the good stuff really begins to shine through.

I'd like to say Automato is an album worth slobbering over, but it's not. A lot of people who are not familiar with how far hip-hop has progressed may find themselves intrigued by the concept of a band playing hip-hop without two turntables. It's something that has been done many times before, however, with the same basic results. Therefore, I'm not going to assume that Automato is out to re-invent the wheel with their music. If this is the case, then this is an excellent endeavor. Let's face it; not every album has to be something to study or lose your mind to.

Staying focused on the fundamentals of their inspirations is an important aspect of Automato's resulting sound. It shows in every moment of the album. It's only a safe effort, though, which is not enough to make it overly easy to write about. I definitely wouldn't count these guys out. My guess is that the mainstream press will get a hold of them in a couple years and Automato will be the center of attention for many hip-hop fans in the mass of society; and they'll feel like they've just heard the most forward-thinking album in the world.

1. Focus
2. The Single
3. My Casio
4. Walk Into the Light
5. Gold of Desert Kings
6. Cool Boots
7. Hollywood and Vine*
8. Capes Billowing*
9. The Let Go
10. How To Read a Person Like a Book
11. Hope