Automation Baby

Mesh are a unique quantity in Our Thing, and in many ways they’re a successful example of something a lot of other bands (most notably modern-day Apoptygma Berzerk) are trying to be; a band with a strong crossover rock/pop sound based in electronics. They write good songs, their production is solid and they have a distinctive voice, both figuratively and in the performances of singer Mark Hockings. I can’t say that I’ve ever been a huge fan – more by circumstance than any specific reason related to the quality of their albums – but I’ve always liked them well enough. With that understanding I’m not particularly taken with their 2013 album Automation Baby; I listened to it a few times when it dropped in March and then moved on. A recent post on Facebook moved me to check in with it again, and while I think I have a better understanding of the LP for the effort, I also feel like I have a handle on why the LP never really clicked with me.

On a purely surface level I don’t think there’s anything really wrong with Automation Baby. It has some nice hooks and choruses, and a couple of tracks with good club appeal, which puts it ahead of a largish number of records I hear on a weekly basis. Ultimately it’s the small details that detract from the listening experience for me. A song like “Just Leave Us Alone” is fine: it’s recognizably Mesh in the interplay of guitar and synths, has a nice big chorus and solid melodies in the verse, not a banger, but a decent pop song. Then three minutes in there’s a full on dubstep breakdown, for no discernible reason. At best it’s a weird production choice, at worst it comes off as cynical and pandering in a song that has no other relationship to that genre. It’s a small microcosm of the record for me, not annoying enough to make me write it off, but enough to keep me from liking it as much as I might have otherwise.

I think Mesh are generally a pretty smart band who understand how to write songs, in light of that perhaps it’s unfair of me to enumerate the small flaws in their album. Still, it’s those nitpicky little things that stick out for me when I’m listening. “Taken for Granted” has a nice grind off the bat but has an overblown backhalf. It’d be fine as a shorter song but feels bloated as six minutes in length. “Adjust Your Set” is nice and breezy but has a big 4 on the floor kick way out in front of the mix that I find distracting. The two interstitial “Incidental” tracks feel very sketchy and I’m not sure why they’re on here, adding length to what already feels like a long record. The devil is in the details as always.

To be clear, if I felt like Automation Baby was an objectively bad record I wouldn’t have bothered to write any of this. If anything it’s simply a case where a few mostly unrelated factors (my own expectations, some puzzling decisions in the construction of the songs and the album) all add up to be bigger than the sum of their parts. I do think the record has some good points; “Flawless” is a solid tune with a catchy chorus that scales well over the course of various builds and breaks, and “Born to Lie” is still as fun in the context of the album as it was as a single. I’m sure a lot of folks aren’t bothered by any of the stuff I’ve mentioned, as a purely subjective listening experience I think your enjoyment will really depend on how much you enjoy Mesh, and how bothered you are by those niggling particulars.

Buy it.