Here are two important things you should know about Automat before listening to it: (1) it is not a reissue of the 1978 electro album by Italian duo Romano Musumarra and Claudio Gizzi, and (2) despite this 2014 release featuring guest appearances by Blixa Bargeld, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Lydia Lunch, it is far from being a harsh listen. Still, Automat is an album at least partially about Berlin’s four airports, so the influence of industrial music does not end with its special guests. Rather mercifully, the characteristics Automat shares with its featured vocalists is brought about in subtler ways, employing rhythmic repetition and guitar effects in a way that suggests factory-dotted landscapes and endless, dark city streets. In an ideal world, Automat is what industrial music would have grown into, something which acknowledges the roads its founding members paved without imitating them in the process.
Automat’s three members—Jochen Arbeit, Achim Farber, and Zeitblom—have previously appeared in such acts as Die Haut, Project Pitchfork and Sovetskoe Foto, respectively. The traits the trio has brought to these past endeavors are easily discernable here, with sawing guitar, racing percussion, and unrelenting bass all taking key roles. The pulse of a city is embodied perfectly by the rhythmic touches throughout the album, with Zeitblom’s dub-influenced basslines acting as a huge standout. This is particularly true on “The Streets”, where the bass and Arbeit’s guitar zoom around Lydia Lunch’s sometimes whispery, sometimes breathy, always raspy vocals. Some unrelenting cymbal work from Farber heightens the already at tipping point tension the song’s elements have created.
The Genesis Breyer P-Orridge collaboration, “Mount Tamalpais”, at first appears to give a little breathing space, starting on a slightly ambient foot as P-Orridge talks of a wounded, flightless bird. Soon the throbs and pulses are back, as the song seems to recount either a frightening chemically-induced experience or the famous plane crash that occurred at Mount Tamalpais in the 1940’s. Given the album’s overarching theme, the latter interpretation is just a guess, but it is obvious that whatever is going on in the song, it’s not pleasant. The way P-Orridge’s voice floats over the song’s soundscape certainly suggests something unnervingly out of body.
The album’s third track featuring a vocalist, “Am Schlachtensee”, is perhaps its most successful, simply due to Blixa Bargeld’s inability of phoning in a vocal appearance. The song creates a whirlpool in combining its various elements, its electro bips undulating menacingly to the surface and overpowering Bargeld’s severe tones. For a song named after a lake, it is far from serene as its digital nuances undermine the naturalism suggested in the song’s title.
Automat’s four instrumental songs, “THF”, “SXF”, “TXF”, and “GWW”, have no shortage of suspense and prove Automat’s three core members are just as adept at creating a mood when special guests aren’t involved. Despite the repetitive nature of this sort of music, the background of each member allows for a fun game of influence-spotting, while also allowing those influences to result in a more unique whole than the average electro-tinged, vocalless release in this day. Given that each track heightens the pulse as it goes along, Automat may not be ideal background or everyday music, but both taking apart its pieces and thrilling at it as a whole earns the album many repeat listens.