“Automatic” – Gramercy Arms

Crisp and crunchy speak-singing verses alternate with a short, anthemic chorus with one word–“automatic”–sung in the background, while “It’s automatic” is spoken/sung in the foreground. Very very simple, but oddly compelling. How can some songs be annoyingly simple and other songs be compellingly simple? Let’s try to figure it out.

“Automatic” is short, to begin with (2:21). This is good either way—if a song is simply simple, there’s no reason to belabor the point; if the song is not as simple as it seems, working quickly will increase the complexity (less time spent repeating anything). “Automatic” has no introduction, which is generally good in a simple song, as introductions often tread water anyway. The speak-singing style used here by front man (and ex-Dambuilder) Dave Derby adds subtle complexity, since it registers as talking but he is in fact hitting specific notes. The first verse is eight measures, then we get the partially sung chorus, also eight measures, but it’s interestingly inside out, with the background singers singing first, before the lead singer speak/sings. Plus, the singing section is sing-along wonderful, like a tiny piece of power pop packed into another song altogether (note too that the word “automatic” turns out to be the completion of the last lyrical line in the verse; more hidden complexity). The second verse is six measures, a change that cannily jars the listener ever so slightly. Two more things nail this down for me: the instrumental break (starting at 0:54), which concisely fleshes out the two-chord riff of the verse in a sharp, yet multilayered way; and then, best of all, the bridge (1:19), eight measures of fuzzed-up melodic sweetness, capped by a burst of harmony that sounds like the Move just as they were turning into ELO, for you old-timers out there. Or Cheap Trick, for you not-quite-as-old-timers.

So this one, yeah, it works for me. “Automatic” is a song from the debut Gramercy Arms CD (and they don’t fool around; the whole thing is only 30 minutes long); it’s self-titled and was released on Cheap Lullaby Records in mid-November. Among the indie rock semi-celebrities helping on on the album were Matthew Caws from Nada Surf, Joan Wasser of Joan As Police Woman (who sings back-up on this song), and members of the Pernice Brothers and Guided By Voices, among others. And comedienne Sarah Silverman too, who apparently sings in addition to kvetches.




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