Sunday, November 19, 2023

Autogramm - Music That Humans Can Play

Time goes by so quickly that I had not realized Autogramm hadn't released new music in over two-and-a-half years. The band's second album No Rules came out in April 2021 — still prime pandemic time. A follow-up, recorded in the summer of last year, has finally made its way into the world. Listening to Music That Humans Can Play is like catching up with an old friend you haven't seen in a while and picking right up like you had just talked yesterday. The title hints at the wonderful irony surrounding Autogramm. Here's a band that relies heavily on synthesizers yet still writes some of the warmest and mostly deeply human songs you'll ever come across. In its early days, the band occupied the new wave side of power pop and existed in what seemed like an eternal 1979. While still a pop band at heart, the now foursome has grown more sophisticated in its craft and deftly propelled its time machine into the 1980s. Having lived through the golden age of MTV circa 1981–83, I find it remarkable how authentically Music That Humans Can Play captures the sound of those times without coming off like a calculated recreation. Much of that has to do with the myriad of inspirations in the mix. Autogramm isn't trying to sound like one or two particular bands. Rather it's channeling an entire era of popular music, and what results is a blending of new wave, synth-pop, power pop, new romantic, and pure pop influences that evokes the spirit of the early '80s in a way that still feels current. It certainly doesn't hurt that four different band members are all injecting their own style and point-of-view. And above all else, Autogramm distinguishes itself from the modern new wave pack (if there really is such a thing) by writing genuinely great songs.   

No Rules was a really fantastic album and a fine example of a good band finding its footing and becoming something even better. 31 months later, Music That Humans Can Play arrives with considerable expectations. And it delivers in a big way. Joined by new guitarist Lars Von Seattle, Jiffy, The Silo, and CC sound more adept than ever at turning out well-crafted, hook-laden songs that somehow manage to sound timeless even as they recall a very distinct moment in music. With its opening 1-2 punch of "Born Losers" and "WannaBe," this album comes flying out the gates with anthemic aspirations. As so many reviewers have commented, these songs sound like they were made for '80s movies soundtracks. And I love the positive vibes here. With the state the world's in now, we should be using our strength to lift others up rather than pulling them down. "Born Losers" would be goofy if it weren't so darn genuine, and there's a special genius in being able to write a song that walks that sort of tightrope. "WannaBe," which advocates unconditional love for others based on who they are underneath all the surface manifestations of being, delivers a beautiful message for these times and all times. "Be my alien" is a mantra we should all live by. As the album continues, the hits keep coming in different styles. "Hey Allie" and "Love Is for Fools" are fully on the pop side of new wave and could pass for forgotten radio hits from four decades ago. "Why Do We Dance?" sounds a little like Devo venturing into dark wave, and I dig every second of it. The bouncy "Plastic Punks" walks the line between punk and new wave circa 1977 and sounds like the best song Jeffrey McCloy never wrote. The stunning "(Always Gonna) Be My Girl" manages to be gloomy and beautiful all at once. "Dive Right In" finds the album ending the way it starts — reminding us to embrace failure rather than being dismayed by it.  

I can't help thinking that the good vibes of Music That Humans Can Play are a reflection of Autogramm's own emergence from the pandemic. It confronts failure and disappointment but looks for the brighter light ahead. Lyrically, the band is taking things deeper than ever. Yet that doesn't mean that the songs can't be fun. These are very serious songs that you can sing along with and dance to, and ultimately this album is exactly what the title suggests. Available now from Stomp Records in Canada and Beluga Records in Europe, this third album from Autogramm is one of the year's best.

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