For Fans Of
Lower Automation cobble together some fantastic influences across the six lighting-fast songs of their new EP, ‘Shoebox Companion‘. (Which drops this Friday, July 27th). These sounds include borrowing the rhythmic extremity from the likes of The Dillinger Escape Plan; the killer prog-rock styles of groups such as The Fall Of Troy at their peak; while also providing their own spin on what At The Drive-In did almost two decades ago on the life-altering post-hardcore epic, ‘Relationship Of Command‘. I could compare shit all damn day until it loses any and all meaning, but while those drawn parallels are indeed accurate, Lower Automation have the performance chops and songwriting abilities to make the sound of those aforementioned bands their own. For with this short yet solid EP, the U.S. three-piece have catapulted themselves into the same leagues as their heroes with their noisy, mathy and highly expressive brand of experimental punk.
‘Shoebox Companion‘ was actually self-described by the Chicago trio as “a 14 and a half minute panic attack“, which is a spot-fucking-on description! Almost to the point that I may as well end this review right now, but hey, where’s the fun in that? (I’d personally say that it sounds like a highly caffeinated cougar jumping at shadows but whatever works). Across these six compositions, skittish, on-edge guitars bend, scream and twist around both standard, driving percussion and kinetic odd-time drumming; all firing off over some frighteningly thick, deep and rapid bass lines. The vocals switch up from these raw, Cedric Bixler–Zavala-like yells to crooning, smooth clean vocals in an instance, creating a constantly dynamic sound. Better still, Lower Automation nails their genuine trio aesthetic, whilst also sounding larger in scope and varied in musicality than most other bands with twice as many members. Despite how intense this EP can be most of the time, it still carries with itself a solid “less is more” approach.
While ‘Shoebox Companion‘ as a whole is a little anti-climactic and could’ve been probably turned into a larger, even stronger full-length with a few added songs, it builds off well from everything that their debut EP, ‘Maps‘, laid down two years ago. To me, this EP’s title suggests it’s about the idea of companionship (or a lack thereof) and being stuck within some pretty dark and claustrophobic spaces – both personally and musically speaking. In that regard, while you’re listening to this full-on release, Lower Automation isn’t stuck in there with you, you’re stuck in there with them. As movie cliche as that sounds.
Opener ‘Coax‘ shows off the intent of Lower Automation’s music: technicality, creativity, guitar pedal magic, and sheer chaos. When the song isn’t running full-throttle, the drums and bass keep things steady and groovin’, while the guitars lash out violently above the rhythm section with the vocals going for broke and driving the track forward. The second song, the nearly-non-stop ‘Cattle Prod Hypochondriac‘, sounds like letting a scared and deranged cow loose in an expensive guitar shop while someone drums along to a Mars Volta song off in the background. It’s goddamn insane, and I’m all about it!
I’ve spoken before about this EP’s incredibly impressive first single, ‘Tethered‘, but man, that closing phased-out-guitar section still kicks my jaw right to the floor. Despite some really strong contenders, this cut is no doubt the best song here and perhaps the band’s strongest piece too. It showcases everything Lower Automation do right – including subtle glitchy electronics sliding into the track’s DMs – whilst also talking about the anxiety that comes with a relationship burning quick at both ends until it finally, messily erupts. ‘Tethered‘ is without a doubt “their” song. So if you listen to just one track from this EP, then please let it be this.
Elsewhere, the quieter but no less busy ‘30 Second Song‘ is just that: a striking, dissonant 30-second prog-math song. (Well, actually, the track is technically 32 seconds long, as the last two seconds are of silence, but I’ll let it slide). The frenetic, staccato-heaven of the double-barrelled ‘Phil and Phyllis Philler‘ (fuck, what a song title) would put a big smile on guitarists like Ben Weinman. As excluding it’s sparser mid-section, the guitar-driven ‘Phil and Phyllis Philler‘ offers a near-perfect soundtrack to hurl one sweaty self onto a rabid crowd – guitar in hand and all. The whole track is like using a mathcore pogo-stick; shooting you up, down, and all-over.
Final track ‘Swing Flesh‘ starts out with some freaky, pitch-rising guitar slides; like a math-rock/prog kettle reaching its explosive boiling point. Yet ‘Swing Flesh‘ is all about movement, about being primed to fire before eventually having the trigger pulled. Thus, things drop down from the intro’s fevered points into disjointed guitar notes and propulsive drum fills as the vocals take center-stage. From this crouched yet ready position, Lower Automation re-build the song’s energetic pace and tone into utter madness. And the modulated guitars, gritty bass riffs and the wailing vocal cry’s come the (slightly anti-climactic) end create a dense timbre; like you’re slowly losing grip on your sanity as amp feedback distorts and washes over you.
Lower Automation really are underground prog and math stalwarts, and you have no credibility to make an end of year list for 2018 without at least making some special mention of ‘Shoebox Companion’. This is a glorious and disorientating EP, one that mixes post-hardcore, prog, math-rock and punk rock together in a solid, seamless and chaotic blend. ‘Shoebox Companion’ was the Chicago band’s sonic dreams and nightmares gloriously colliding right in front me, and I never wanted to look away from the spectacle. So, here’s hoping that plenty more people take real notice of Lower Automation moving forward because god knows they deserve wider attention.
Cattle Prod Hypochondriac
30 Second Song
Phil and Phyllis Philler
‘Shoebox Companion’ is out July 27th! Enjoy these shorter reviews while they last, people.