Together for more than a decade now, L.A.‘s the Autumns are still relatively unknown to the world at large, despite numerous, nearly universal, rave reviews and a rather ardent fan contingent. Fake Noise from a Box of Toys, the band’s fourth full-length release, and follow-up to the critically lauded, self-titled third album, aims to capture a wider audience.
“Turning Strangers Into Friends and Friends Into Customers” is an atomic blast of an introduction, an assault of crunching guitars and cymbal crashes, a dramatic declaration delivered in an operatic voice. “Now that they love you / They’ll never trust you”, laments vocalist Matthew Kelly in his opening onslaught, which seems engineered to ensure this album commands your full attention (even the title tells you, this time, the Autumns mean business!).
“Boys” kicks in with ferocious beats courtesy of Steve Elkins on drums, and picks up with a refrain that has the kind of infectious quality that will find you suddenly singing it as you wander through the empty supermarket aisles at 2 AM, belting out the melody and beating out the rhythm on freezer cases and soup cans. “Clem” takes the energy down a notch, but only just. The guitars peal and wail, tumbling drumbeats twine around Dustin Morgan’s unshakable bass line, building the tension that never resolves, extending ominously into the next track. “Midnight Knock” is an eerie lullaby, beautiful and hypnotic, beginning with a soft ticking and folding in a hushed creaking under the chimes and swells from Frankie Koroshec’s and Ken Tighe’s guitars. Kelly sings sweetly of ships lost and seas whispering, while sinister sounds seep up from beneath surface. The effect is that of a half-forgotten dreams of drowning and wakeful childhood memories, shadows slinking in corners of darkened rooms, windows lit by slices of silvery moons, blinking eyes straining toward bedside clocks, and the tinkling, far off, of an antique music box.
“Killer in Drag” amps up the energy—and the suspense—again. It’s very disconcerting to realize what the angelic voice is singing about, but the relentlessness of the rhythm section makes the track utterly irresistible. “Night Music” downshifts once more, and it becomes clear that the Autumns are experimenting not only within the songs, but also with the dynamics of the tracks themselves.
The adjective of choice these days is angular. Along with other generic geometrical terms, it’s used to describe everything from the guitars’ attack and the percussive accents, to the shifting time signatures and the vocal phrasing of particular groups. Not to retread familiar descriptive territory, but the Autumns obviously share certain characteristics with some so-called “math-rock” bands whose inventive compositions and algebraic time signatures set them apart from every other indie-rock sub-genre. It’s not specific parallels that cause the comparison, however. It’s the originality springing from similarities. Traditional song structures are recognizable here, but expected elements are shuffled. Every listen yields a twist, a new component comes to the fore, like a puzzle not as simple as it first appeared to be, but more satisfying for the challenge. The Autumns are definitely an active listening experience.
“Glass Jaw” might be the standout track on Fake Noise from a Box of Toys. It seems to be the amalgam of all of the features before it—the tension, the shifting dynamics and signatures, the driving guitars and propulsive rhythms, and lyrics invoking images at odds with the heavenly voice. “Uncle Slim” is a rolling, almost bouncing, hook-filled confection, in which Kelly sings aptly of “sweet divination”, complete with a “la-la-la” refrain. “Beautiful Boot” features female counterpoint harmonies to devastating effect. They only make Kelly’s more celestial as he croons “Girl you’re just the falling snow / Breaking every branch and bone”. “Adelaide” is another cheery charmer, though much more up-tempo, which juxtaposes melodic hooks against harsh rock riffs.
Fake Noise from a Box of Toys closes on a statement similarly tremendous as the one with which it opened. “Oh My Heart” isn’t a short sharp shock, though. Rather, it’s a valiant swan-song-style saga on a mammoth scale, beginning with—in fact, almost completely consisting of—its chorus, “Oh my heart / Doesn’t start / It’s the same cold story / Glory, glory, glory”. Expanding to more than six minutes, it becomes a mantra over cycling musical themes, alternately soft or strident, until it stops, surprisingly, just as suddenly as it started.