The Places – The Autopilot Knows You Best

The Places
The Autopilot Knows You Best

You know, I didn’t really like this album the first few times I listened to it. I thought it was more slow-core style ballad-rock with a female singer. It didn’t really jump out at me. But sometimes the best albums don’t. And as I gave The Places a chance, I began to see the complexities, the subtleties, the finesse of this album.

Portland, Oregon’s The Places is lead by singer/songwriter Amy Annelle, whose vocals remind me of a more harmonic Liz Phair and a bit of Natalie Merchant. These slow-core style songs are relaxed and laid-back but not quite as sparse as a band like Low, often mixing acoustic and electric guitar with keys and strings for a quiet and lovely effect. And with Annelle’s gorgeous vocals, the songs take on a quiet beauty all their own. While none of them immediately jump out at you, they’re all quiet pretty.

“Own Your Own Home” starts things off, and while this isn’t the strongest song here, it is a lovely, light song, full of a soft, swaying rhythm, light drums, and Ida-like melodies. “Lazy Days & Castaways” is nearly perfect, however, using strings, more moving drums, and even accordion to spruce things up, resembling more of a Nick Drake-style slow pop song. “Mission Impossible” has a bit more of a Liz Phair sound, the instrumentation here a bit more powerful and in the fore, lending the song more emphasis and mixing nicely with the vocals. “Mouth to Mouth” uses keyboards and more up-tempo guitars for more of a poppy sound, and they pull it off well, making this my favorite song on the album. This track alone makes the album worth purchasing. “Will Try” takes on almost a country feel, complete with lyrics that evoke feelings of both desperation and determination. The acoustic guitar on “No Mystery” is perfect, light and melodic yet emphatic, and the vocal harmonies are downright beautiful. Forgive me for making mainstream comparisons, but the vocals here remind me of Sara McLaughlin. “Ships At Sea” is similarly lead by the vocals that really drive the sparse, quiet song. The almost 7-minute long “Love Song For a Comet” is another fantastic track, slightly poppy, slow but flowing, pretty and catchy. This one will be stuck in your head, I guarantee it. And the band finishes with “Late Night,” a Syd Barrett cover that’s done in their own unique, quiet and somber quality while still maintaining something of a 60’s-tinged sound.

I think the real power of this album is its lack of showy, in-your-face tricks. The Places keep to what they know best: subtle, introspective and quiet pop songs, lead by Annelle’s lovely vocals and acoustic guitar. And after several listens, the brilliance of these songs comes through. Another nice touch is little clips of old recordings that fills the space between songs. This is really an excellent album, not one that you’ll love immediately, most likely, but one that you’ll love all the more after a few listens.