“Slow evolving, automatic, slow evolving, automatic.” Repeated several times it could be the kind of phrase spoken by office workers as they mind-numbingly perform the same tasks over and over again. It could also be spoken by technology-controlled people at home scrolling through tablets at endless news feeds. In a similar way to the message conveyed on Jamiroquai’s 2017 album Automaton, Melbourne quartet Midlife’s lyrics are aiming to highlight the automation of the modern age, in particular how it’s halted human creativity and prevents important innovation.
While the Australian quartet’s airy prog-rock and space-pysch attempts to encourage listeners to daydream and think outside the algorithmic loop of daily routine, it also works as a therapeutic mind-expanding exercise because it’s easy to sink into their lengthy genre-shifting jams (and not realizing the album has only six tracks) and open up our imagination. The music also harks back to the times in which Midlife believe had more purposeful creative innovations – in particular the 1970s. Midlife said in an interview: “Maybe back in the ’60s and ’70s those really smart people were working at NASA or at, like, innovative things that actually tried to develop humankind in a sort of more inspiring way.”
Opening track ‘Rare Air’ has the warm temperature of a classic Steely Dan track and hears lead vocalist Kevin McDowell searching for a life with less suffocating boredom, only to fall straight back into the same motivation-draining trap. “Finding rarer air, nothing compares. New design, is this mine? Nevermind it’s not the time.” Midlife’s new album Automatic combines clear live-sounding rock, globally-influenced funk and dance-orientated disco effects. Midlife include the use of vocoder many times within their instrumental set up. It’s paired with Adam Halliwell’s flute on ‘Vapour’, a LCD Soundsystem-ish dance-funk track about body awareness. It adds a Sebastien Tellier-robotic echo to Kevin McDowell’s otherwise Kevin Parker-like vocals on the title track ‘Automation’. The bass, beat and slashes of guitar are reminiscent of Survivor’s ‘Eye Of The Tiger’, making it seem like the beginning of their battle against contemporary tedium. Yet it also contains this hypnotic ethereal airiness which also relaxes the mind.
The same airiness that connects mid-album tracks ‘Downstream’ and ‘Citations’– that use an equilibrium of strummed acoustic guitars and cosmic dust, as well as percussion such as güira – into a Jean Michel-Jarre experience. The tracks look at patterns outward in nature and society, remarking: “Where’s the motivation? Time again, there’s no plan.” and “Looking for citations. What’s around? Nothing’s around. Looking from the station, without hesitation.” ‘Memory Palace’ is Midlife’s closest exploration into dance music, the keyboard and beat recall 1990’s piano house while the scatter-singing gives off a Fela Kuti Afrobeat vibe. It’s a really refreshing sound and because it’s once again a unpredictable genre-fusion, it doesn’t feel out-of-the-place on the LP.
Got a long road trip planned? Put this Midlife record on. Roll down those windows, feel the air brush past your fingers and let the absorbing ‘Automatic’ expand your horizons.