Dancing Through Dark Times
Out of Line
Sweden’s Auto-Auto have always struck me as a strange beast. While their albums have thus far traded in quirky indie and synthpop signifiers, the group hasn’t ever been about sleek neon dancefloor moves. Instead, they’ve made a habit of twisting their chosen forms together into a newer, weirder strains of electropop. Laudable as that is as a creative philosophy, it’s not been an altogether successful formula for them; despite occasionally yielding some very good songs their material too often lacks the hooks to bind all their disparate ideas together. Dancing Through Dark Times doesn’t buck that trend unfortunately, as an album it has no shortage of nice moments, but ultimately lacks cohesion.
If you were ever looking for an example of what Auto-Auto does correctly, “Our New Machine” would make a suitable candidate. Starting as a bit of standard 4/4 electro it slyly borrows the hook from the disco classic “Turn the Beat Around” of all things, making it over into a wonderful bit of robotic dancepop. It’s a great “WTF” moment and that strikes me as the sort of reaction that Auto-Auto are usually shooting for. A shame then that they so infrequently achieve that on Dancing Through Dark Times. “Mimmick” casts an early 80s breakdance beat as the backdrop for a pleasant enough bit of synthpop but it’s too slight to ever really catch the listener’s ear. “Black Disco Ball”‘s bleepy lead and strong vocals definitely have the makings of something, but it feels like a much larger song compressed down in both scope and length, to its detriment, sadly. That criticism could probably be leveled at many of these tracks; a number of the straighter electropop numbers like “Re-Program Me”, “Someone Out There” or “Cosmic Injustice” all feel like they want to be bigger somehow. That level of grandeur does get achieved on the fabulous “Starcharts”, at 5:20 it’s the longest thing here and probably the best. Weird as it seems, I don’t think those two things are unconnected, a pointer to the results Auto-Auto can achieve when they give their melodies and ideas some space to unfold.
Truth of the matter is that like with the previous Auto-Auto albums, I want to like Dancing Through Dark Times more than I actually do. That’s probably natural, when a band seems so eminently likable by virtue of the amount of fun they they’re having, you’re gonna want to be in on it too. Although not it’s not a terrible listen, when a group shows this much skill and cheek as both producers and songwriters just being okay is never going to feel like a success. I have no doubt in my mind that Auto-Auto have a masterpiece of quirky electropop in them. Sadly, Dancing Through Dark Times isn’t it: its highs are too sparse to pull the the record up past the decent marker. As an indicator that Auto-Auto are still plugging away, trying to find their sweet spot it makes for a pleasant listen, but leaves us waiting for the time when these gifted Swedes finally make good on their potential.