Cosmic Aussie quartet Mildlife return with a fine brew of spaced-out, astral grooves. Mildlife are unashamedly driven to completely do their own thing, yet with a very relatable and danceable feel to their musical message.
Following their successful 2018 debut album, Phase, their latest offering Automatic, moves the band along in their evolution, in what you can only imagine will be a continuing, upward trajectory.
The opening track, ‘Rare Air’ has a soaring, spacious intro before the synths (Kevin McDowell) start to gradually build the song, giving way to the tight rhythm section of Tom Shanahan on bass & Jim Rindfleish, who actually engineered their debut album, before getting behind the Mildlife drum kit. It has an air of infinity and never-ending aspiration about it - “Eyes fixed far ahead, the horizon never met…”. At almost seven minutes in length, it doesn’t drag at all, as it melts and oozes around your ears.
‘Vapour’, the second single from the album, kicks off with a stonking bassline from Shanahan. The flute breaks from Adam Halliwell gives the track a tribal, almost Amazonian (or perhaps Australian Outback) feel contrasted with McDowell’s robotic vocals. Part of the enjoyment of listening to Mildlife is that it is difficult to put them in a particular box or genre. There have been comparisons to the likes of Kraftwerk and Stereolab, however, much of their sound can be indefinable but also touches on a diverse variety of influences from Miles Davis & John Coltrane to Pink Floyd and Can. Mildlife are unpredictable and unusual, yet with plenty of craft, structure and substance.
This element of unpredictability carries over into ‘Downstream’. Some of the vocals here have echoes of the late 80s / early 90s Manchester. There is an air of confidence as the funky beat kicks off this track. It then slows down dramatically towards the mid-section with a howling wind effect - giving an almost cinematic feel, only to be jolted once again with an exquisite guitar lick from Halliwell.
The dreamy and searching ‘Citations’ fades seamlessly in from the previous track, twisting and turning in some interesting and unexpected directions. ‘Memory Palace’ is playful yet harmless and somewhat forgettable. Its’ acid-house synth beats are absent of any vocals, with an abrupt finish. For the finale, Mildlife saves their best for last in the title track. ‘Automatic’ is a funky soup of snaking, soulful beats - “slowly crawling, slow evolving…”. The song puffs its chest out with all the exuberance of Talking Heads at their best. The vinyl version of the song features a ‘locked groove’, meaning it will repeat ad infinitum until you lift off the stylus yourself. It’s not a bad track at all to be locked into.
The band clearly moves fluidly and effortlessly between playing live and studio recording. This album sounds great listening to it in the confines of your home, but the guys at Mildlife will take it to another level in a live environment. Even if we have to wait a few more months for that to happen, it will be well worth it.