An Automotive – S/T

In the incestuous world of indie rock, it’s not surprising to find a one-time bassist or drummer in a popular band toting that “ex-member of” tag when promoting their new band, of which they similarly play a minor role. In fact, you’ll often hear people bragging of bands they were a part of that most people have never heard of. Here, however, you get some ex members of fine Chicago-area bands that seem made to work together.

Erik Bocek, bassist with Joan of Arc who moved on to Ghosts n Vodka and the Firebird Band, and partner Frank Hryniewicz, formerly of Sidekick Kato, form the framework of An Automotive. Joined by other ex-Sidekick Kato and other band members, this mostly instrumental project seems to combine elements from all of those bands. A bit of hard rock, a bit of soft, keyboard-driven pop, some mathy-formulars, a little jazzy instrumentalism, and some avant-garde all play into these 10 songs.

This band’s best moments are their flowing instrumentals. Combining equal parts The Mercury Program and Pele, “Pop Wasteland” is a fantastic track, filled with tight rhythm and melodic guitars. “Bagheads” flows by with such beauty and grace you barely notice, and “Ballad of Julee Cruise” goes in another direction, playing off jazzy trumpet and low-tuned guitars for a slick and sultry mood. Almost as good is the up-tempo, rhythm-driven flow of “Whatever Happened to Galveston Island,” a fantastic track with some almost surf-like guitar. The nine-minute closer, “The Anchor,” demonstrates a more chaotic side, with free-flowing guitar, pounding percussion, and keyboards flowing in and out as the pace waxes and wanes. After several minutes of instrumental, vocals come in, soft and flowing. A nice conclusion.

When vocals come in, the songs are a bit more traditional indie-rock fare. “All Flint and Steel, But No Spark” takes a playful beat and melody over keyboard washes for a laid-back, somewhat bouncy track. “Mannequins are Beautiful” is a wonderful track, with gorgeous melodic guitar work and much stronger vocals, still giving the hint of a Joan of Arc or Cap’n Jazz feel. “Someone’s the Subject” has a cool electronic flow until the vocals kick in, bringing things a bit more back to a normal feel while still maintaining a subtle, laid-back mood. Tons of guitar effects really add a cool touch to “Communal Lobe,” while the vocals are a tad weak.

The 10 songs on An Automotive’s self-titled debut do not flow cohesively, unfortunately, as the styles change on each track. But the tracks themselves are so good, you’d think the band was pulling together a best-of album. Perhaps with a little more time, they’ll develop their own more cohesive flow – that is, if they don’t break up and add this to their list of “ex-members of” projects. Here’s hoping they stay together for more.

Side note: Has anyone else noticed all the car references post-Cap’n Jazz? There was the side project Sky Corvair, the post-Braid projects Hey Mercedes and Firebird band, and now An Automotive. Any more I’m missing?