It’s been a while since Between the Buried and Me released Automata I, and now, after months digesting it, we have the second half, the aptly named Automata II. I praised the first half as being one of the better BTBAM releases, despite the mysterious choice to split what we now see is clearly intended to be one complete product. The music on the first half was every bit up to snuff with prior releases, pulling from some of the best sounds of the Colors era and adding some clean, minimalist refinement. Now, part two continues that trend and takes a detour into the zany, as we ought to expect by now. Overall, the entire package is a worthwhile endeavor. The lyrical theme of being lost in a dream-state carries throughout the two parts, and they flow seamlessly from one to the next. Regardless of whether we approve of it being released in parts, BTBAM can do as they please when the music is of this quality.
If you recall, Automata I finished with the excellent track, “Blot,” and I encourage you to pick up part two right where “Blot” left us. As immense and progressive as “Blot” was, “The Proverbial Bellow” is all the more, making it perhaps the most classically progressive track BTBAM has ever put out. It clocks in at over 13 minutes, and shifts gears several times, including several minutes of pure instrumental, progressive odyssey. This track is conservative with the extreme vocals and instead focuses more on classic sounds—meandering guitars backed by psychedelic keyboards.
As we head into “Glide,” the second of only four tracks, the album takes about as drastic a turn as possible. If I recall correctly, this is the first time we’ve heard accordion on a BTBAM track, but I suppose it was due. Okay, I’m being told I don’t recall correctly. I forgot there was accordion on “Prequel to the Sequel” as well. I guess it’s just old hat, then. Anyway, “Glide” is a mere two minute interlude successfully aimed at disorienting the listener by using old-world instrumentation and melody. The lyrics reference a dance in which “time is irrelevant” in the speaker’s arms.
“Glide” aptly sets the stage for “Voice of Trespass,” which continues with a fusion of modern metal and a sort of big band swing, complete with horns and all. This is to Automata what the hoedown is to Colors, and the surfer rock section is to Parrallax. It’s a curious and amusing merging of two genres that appear to have no relation. “Voice of Trespass” works to both continue the narrative of losing one’s self in a dream, while also lending a touch of humor as BTBAM have done throughout their discography. Maybe it’s because we just heard some accordion, but I think Tommy Giles may have actually channeled Al Yankovic for the opening vocals to this track.
“Voice of Trespass” does mature around half way through, hammering home the lyrical concept with the repeated, screamed phrase “wake up,” eerily reminiscent of the “white walls” chant from the Colors track of the same name. The song then ties directly back to the opening of Automata I with the repeated phrase, “we are hollow; condemned to the gallows.”
The theme of being desperately lost in a dream-state carries wonderfully through the whole of Automata, in both the lyrics, and in the disorienting, ever-shifting melodies. However, the narrative loses me in the final track, “The Grid.” The song is excellent, but the lyrics are extremely disjointed and confusing. Not only is there no conclusion to the narrative, but the final lines appear wholly contradictory: “please don’t wait up for me. I can now move on. We are in this together.”
Though that final line, “We are in this together” seems to abandon the narrative of a speaker trapped in the isolation of an ever-shifting dream-state, it is a powerfully evocative mantra to leave us with. It feels strangely meta, as though Giles himself is attempting to comfort us following the cerebral onslaught of the preceding music. Perhaps he is emphasizing that although we are all trapped in our own minds to an extent, we all share that experience, and therefore are not truly alone. Regardless, it’s a haunting and beautiful sentiment to end on, and a memorable finish to a worthwhile piece of music.
Automata II fulfills the promises made by part one, bringing us a combined album of excellent and cohesive material that clocks in at over an hour. Two of the four tracks on part two are somewhat zany, but fit nicely when listening to Automata in one piece, which again makes me question the purpose of releasing it in two. I suppose the minor annoyance of attaining and correlating the two half-albums is a price worth paying for a strong concept, and some of the more consistently good material BTBAM has put out to date.
FAVORITE TRACK: “The Grid”
RELEASE DATE: 7/13/2018