Neko X James have been making amazing music as separate artistic entities for years, but alongside the one and only Travis Atreo, they dish out their very best material yet in “Automatic,” a moving new single out this March. With their diverse backgrounds influencing the experimental nature of this song, Neko X James reveal an endearing side to their songcraft and espouse a creative wistfulness that is unparalleled in or out of their scene at the moment. The lyrics touch on existential territory, but the music is as acerbic and throttling as they come, centering on a dashingly surreal hook that forms the foundation for a bevy of gilded grooves. “Automatic” is a heavy song on all fronts, but features an angular finish that ties it more to the avant-garde world than it does anything in plastic-faceted pop music.
The bass here is a wild animal that couldn’t be caged even if Neko X James had wanted it to be, but it’s nothing next to the synthesized melody’s ethereal wallop. Though synthesizers have become even more commonplace in pop music today than they ever were in the 1980’s, I haven’t heard many tracks that texturize its role in the narrative of the lyrics in the way that this song does from beginning to end. The synth is an emotive attribute in “Automatic” as any of the other instruments or even the vocal itself are, and somehow the music doesn’t feel evenly slightly artificial as a result. If Neko X James’ contemporaries could figure out how this pair performed such a difficult challenge, pop music might become a little less stagnant than it is at the moment.
“Automatic” stimulates us on numerous levels from the time that we press play to the very instant in which the music fades into the ethers that it first emerged from. Neko X James and Travis Atreo have our attention immediately with the bassline and carefully dispatch the lyrics with just enough vigor that we’re able to appreciate all of the gusto in the colorful vocal. The instrumentation is obviously just as huge an element, and even the master mix itself serves as an agent of evocation in this song; something that I haven’t personally experienced outside of post-rock, trance and psychedelic music.
This new single from Neko X James and Travis Atreo makes for the perfect ambient backing track to a sunny beach party shared with your favorite friends, a romantic evening spent alone with a likeminded lover, a night at the club dedicated to shredding the dancefloor, or even an afternoon of introspective contemplation. It’s extremely rare for a song to suit so many different occasions, but to be fair, there’s really nothing typical about “Automatic” or the trio of performers behind its thrilling melodies. Neko X James are going to release a total of four singles over the course of 2019, but if they get enough of a positive reception, I really hope that they consider making more music as a duo. They’ve got the chops to make a full LP out of songs like this one, and as a fan of smart pop music, I don’t feel the least bit greedy in asking for as much.
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