[23 November 2004]
Sometimes you get some really freakin’ weird albums in the mail that, after the first eight seconds, you look at the clock and realize it will all be over in 40 or 45 minutes. This practice is just as much a blessing as it is a curse at times, depending on whether the album is worth its salt or should be used as a coaster on your new Ikea end table. Autistic Daughters is one of those albums that never lulls the listener to sleep, is never mainstream, and hardly ever boring. The brainchild of Dean Roberts and some of his close friends, Autistic Daughters sounds like the music the children in Sigur Ros’s video “Vidrar Vel Til Loftarasa” would be creating now. Minimal, sparse, hushed and dirge-like, the opening “A Boxful of Birds” invites the listener into their evolving and vast array of sound structure and adventurousness. Assisted by Wener Dafeldecker on contra bass and Martin Brandlmayr on drums, the song drags itself along prior to picking itself up and dusting itself off. And whereas other bands would be screaming cut by now, Autistic Daughters are getting warmed up as a haunting series of lyrics and handclaps enter the proceedings.
Autistic Daughters aren’t riding anyone’s coattails such as Montreal’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Yo La Tengo. Rather they are taking everything to its lengthy logical conclusion before adding something else on. “Florence Crown, Last Relay” begins with a jazzy bass line that could start off any song by a lounge-stuck chanteuse. But Roberts’s vocal, resembling a shy David Byrne, flourishes on this track as the drum brushes kick in. The flow of the song is quite solid as Roberts relies heavily on his supporting cast to keep things on a straight but hardly narrow road. As Roberts repeats one line, Brandlmayr, Dafeldecker and Valerio Tricoli flesh out the hypnotic, trance-inducing tune. Guitars are then deftly added, creating the hue of an early and extremely minimal Velvet Underground circa “Sweet Jane”. It’s a song that can’t be easily duplicated due to all the nuances surrounding it.
Of the seven songs presented on this 50-minute album, perhaps “The Glasshouse and the Gift Horse” is the most accessible to the average rock fan. Roberts begins on guitar before his whispered vocals bring to mind Bryan Ferry if he knew the end was in sight. This quickly morphs into a fuller, Bowie-esque experiment with a harmonium and the backing vocals of Tricoli. A carnival like series of sounds makes the song’s tension expand as Roberts sounds more fragile, as if he’s on the verge of something either tragic or jubilant. He clings onto this feeling for a series of rich, XTC circa Apple Venus Vol. 1 moments before wrapping it up. This might come off as depressing to some, but for a real downer try “Rainy Day in June” that crawls along like a latter day Lou Reed. Sounding not quite out of tune but not quite in tune either, Roberts sounds as if he’s facing something inevitable. “Cherished things are perishing and buried in the tomb,” he sings as if he’s about to snap.
This dreary drizzle-centric theme continues on “Spend It on the Enemy (While It Was Raining)” although it’s not as powerful or mesmerizing as the previous song. Here Roberts sounds like he’s ranting more than creating a great song, but again the tone and tempo gets into your blood immediately as psychedelic hues swirl around the conclusion. “In Your Absence from the Street” brings to mind Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut with Roger Waters delivering one acerbic and dark line after another. There is more of a moody nature to this song as it seems like Roberts is channeling an early PJ Harvey as the music reaches a fuller, passionate pitch. By the time the title track ends, Autistic Daughters should be playing in the darker recesses of your mind over and over.