Semiautomatic – Resident Genius

Resident Genius

My last run-in with the 5 Rue Christine label came in the form of Xiu Xiu’s Knife Play. That was an album that I found hard to swallow. I thought it was a good attempt at creating an artsy album of electronic doom, but it tried too hard and ended up sounding overly serious and depressing. The next thing I know, I see the album on many best-of-the-year-so-far lists. Resident Genius leaves me with a similar feeling. I applaud its effort at sounding different than the majority of what is being released today. I also find that it has a lot to offer with many enjoyable moments. But each time I listen through the album I am left with an unenthusiastic feeling about it.
The first track, “Eat Your Eyes,” leaves me unsettled. We have dirty guitars, dirty female yells (Akiko), industrial atmospherics, and new-wave synths. It’s an interesting combination to be sure. But what I don’t know at this point is whether or not it’s going to work. The title song switches gears entirely, coming off as more of a straightforward synth-pop number, and an enjoyable one at that, as the vocals are kept under control and the song is more structured. Interestingly enough, however, is the fact that the song almost blatantly rips off both Joy Division’s drumming technique and a synthesizer beat from a certain Gary Numan song off of The Pleasure Principle. I am still not quite sure how I feel about Semiautomatic. The following rather enjoyable spy movie-sounding instrumental only further confounds me about where this group is headed.
The male half of the duo (Ropstyle) sings on “Dramatics,” a song that is far too grating on the ears both vocally and musically to be enjoyable. The early 90s techno that is “Orbit Kills the Tulip” follows, serving as another needed break from the overly harsh vocals. “Slushee Machine” is an interesting song to say the least, with rapid drumming and gothic synthesizers, along with curious lyrics: “they said that queer is a gene / we said yeah queer is a gene / because there’s gotta be / there’s gotta be a reason for it…put me in your slushee machine / I want to be your frozen treat.” But the Kathleen Hannah-with-more-grizzle vocals again don’t fit the music very well. Yet another instrumental follows, which begins as a tribute to Republic-era New Order, but soon turns into pointless guitar distortion. As the first half of the album comes to an end, I am left divided. Resident Genius has a live sound with catchy synth licks and drumming, but it also has the more often than not grating vocals and dirty guitar playing.
The second half of Resident Genius is comprised of largely unforgettable dance instrumentals, except for three tracks that stick out. The first is the organ-heavy “Dressed Up,” the dreamiest number to be found on the album. It is a song with a hopeful 80s feel, but without the cheese. The chorus borrows the lyrics, “what I like about you / you really know how to dance,” delivering them in an utmost synth-pop fashion. “Tight Pants” surprisingly reaps Joy Division of all its elements this time around. The drumming, guitar, and even Peter Hook-esque droning bass playing sound remarkably like said band. But if I were to compare the lyrics “every fuckin week ever fuckin day / I’m so bored I wish I could die” to those of Ian Curtis, well…you get the picture. Finally, we get a standard trip-hop track, “Epilogue.”
Resident Genius is a difficult album to recommend. It takes a go at so many different styles on its 14 tracks that the album, unsurprisingly, does not feel very cohesive. Another problem is that Semiautomatic draws inspiration from a number of my favorite bands from the post-punk era. And anybody who has heard the bands that Semiautomatic takes queue from could not help but feel let down. Still, a fan of all the styles mentioned might find Resident Genius to be an enjoyable listen. I still cannot decide whether I prefer an album such as this that tries to create its own sound and ends up with so-so results, or an album that is not very original but does what it does well. I am still divided. I look forward to the album that 5RC releases that is original but also a great album. I know that it is only time before this happens.