Autopilot is for Lovers – To The Wolves

autopilot

Autopilot is for Lovers - To The Wolves

As a very amateur musician, I’ve found that singing is easily the most difficult musical skill to acquire. If I could just control my voice with my hands instead of my breath, I’d be alright. Autopilot is for Lovers’ lead singer Adrienne Hatkin has no such problems. She goes for the gusto all over their debut album To the Wolves, and has a talent for commanding attention with her vocal chords. Whether or not you like her singing, and to a large extent these songs, is going to depend on how much you like trilling vibrato, as it is her signature move.

First, let’s consider the music. It is very rockist in structure, but is performed with a coterie of traditional acoustic instruments like pianos, banjos, accordions, glockenspiels, trumpets, and so on. This gives the music a mystical, gothic feel throughout. But the indie rock side comes through strongly on some songs as well, particularly standout track “Pine Box Town”, where creeping guitar and windy-sounding feedback introduce the song, then give way to forceful distorted guitar chords, and then finish with a loud, dysphoric climax. This track and the raw, blaring “Shadows” tread in the same gloriously tarnished territory perfected in the 90’s by bands like Come and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Elsewhere, “Biology” is a beautifully plaintive piano ballad, and feels like a respite from the negative feelings the bulk of the album explores and elicits.

The lyrics try to evoke a poeticism and magical realism that loosely follows the storytelling tradition of the more traditional musical styles present throughout the album. Most all of the words come from a very accusatory place, and chronicle wrongdoings perpetrated against and oversight of the singer, and give the feeling that the whole album is a soapbox for a cathartic bitch session. In this way, it’s a blues album, but like the words on most blues albums, the myopic, center-of-the-universe conceit gets old pretty quickly. Many of the lyrics are overdramatic without offering anything really interesting to the listener, much like they were cribbed straight from one of my high school journals (“He is giving you strychnine to cure the disease”; “Lava runs through my veins / My air will be the smoke”; “The bones I broke riding a wild horse called youth – they’ve all mended well and I put them to good use”). I sense some animosity.

Finally, let’s talk about the singing. To some, I would guess her singing is revelatory, representing the banshee wail which announces the loss of an innocent person (presumably the singer) who is thrown to the wolves. I can’t help but think of Alanis Morrissette and Natalie Merchant’s over-adornment of their own voices when I hear Hatkin’s finely expressive voice being repeatedly possessed by a bleating lamb. To me, it feels like an unnecessary affectation that draws attention away from some great music and her confident, free-flowing voice. I feel the same way about the accordion and other traditional touchstones. While they do provide a nice variety, and don’t sound bad per se, they also seem to distract from some of the great things that are happening musically. Hatkin and partner-in-crime Paul Seely consistently compose and play at levels beyond what one would expect of such a young band. Although not impossible, it is very difficult to claim your own unique artistic voice when the sounds you are using so easily call to mind the past.

So I’d say To The Wolves is a qualified success and a promising debut. Next time, lyrics that include some more active introspection to go along with the observations of dysfunction would make the listening experience feel less like a voyeuristic affirmation that you’re doing as a favor to an out-of-sorts friend or loved one. Also, I would like to see them have the confidence to let the music speak for itself without dressing it up in period-piece clothes. It’s plenty strong on its own. And less vibrato, please!

Autopilot is for Lovers

Bladen County Records