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Little Atlas - Automatic Day CD (album) cover


Little Atlas



3.86 | 98 ratings

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4 stars Having voraciously devoured the surprising Roy Strattman debut solo album, the cleverly titled "The Lie of the Beholder " and given it a spirited and enthusiastic review, I now have been given the opportunity to see what the issuing band Little Atlas had to offer on their most recent 2013 release "Automatic Day". I am elated to report that there are familiar strengths that both enjoy, namely stellar bass playing from Rik Bigai and Roy Strattman's effusive guitar stylings being foremost, as well as some obvious differences. Keyboardist Steve Katsikas is more front and center here, not only with his arsenal of ivories but he also handles most of the lead vocals. While very proficient, I actually prefer Strattman's voice on his solo venture, but that is just my taste. The other major difference, with all due respect to excellent Little Atlas drummer Mark Whobrey, is having the now legendary Nick D'Virgilio blow the lid off the tracks with his booming style. That is just not fair! All of this being said, the music should be taken for what it is and it has only a passing resemblance to the Strattman work. Its way more diverse and offers up a wide palette of unexpected traits that will undoubtedly catch more than a few off guard.

"Oort" has an asymmetrical acoustic/electric guitar intro, with Bigai's slippery bass slithering nicely through the sonic openings but the true revelation is Katsikas' swirling mellotron blasts that color the symphonics, a sudden e-piano cameo and a lead vocal that hints at Echolyn. This is the proper way to get into the material that will flow onward.

For a second I thought I was listening to a lost Landberk piece, "Apathy" is a highlight track that scours the horizon with winds of contrast, the vocals highly reminiscent of Patrick Helje of the Swedish legends, whist the chorus and arrangement provide a density that is hugely appealing. Fab track!

Little Atlas can be a different kettle of fish, Roy preferring a more angular approach to his rhythm guitar riffing, a trait that has a strong Robert Fripp flavoring, utterly obvious on the mathematically precise "Twin of Ares" . Now I am not a fan of this KC period (Three of a Perfect Pair), nor do I really enjoy Echolyn's style. It's all a little too Cartesian for me but I do enjoy Bigai's furrowing method, nevertheless.

Another successful track, "Emily True" is a quirky affair with a wall of brooding synths egging the passionate but slightly deranged lead vocals. The mood starts out contemplative and then just explodes into a mellotron ?hard guitar bulldozer, insistent, manic and tortured. Rick Bigai shows of some scintillating runs and the whole thing just hammers away, relentlessly.

Fabulous track number two is named "At the End of the Day", a prog-rock ballad that owns a melody that is immediate and ravishing, traits that seriously tend to seduce me rather easily, armed with a glorious lead vocal full of bravado and passion. Expertly crafted, well expressed lyrically and sophisticated in its instrumental delivery (that darn Fender Rhodes!), this can be listened to repeatedly without any ennui. Roy tortures his guitar with conviction, propelling the pleasure into a paroxysm of delight.

The lengthiest piece is "Illusion of Control", a title that evokes a theme I particularly enjoy discussing in my social life when waxing philosophy (I do own a degree, after all). A subject matter that deals with illusions of freedom and yet underlines the total dependence the human imposes on himself masochistically to govern himself according to some "power to be". Don't get me started, so let's talk music. A 10 minute + ride through dark and sunny, up and down the roller coaster of modern living, pleasure and pain, sadness and elation, misery and ecstasy. A frozen Beatles-like middle section of acoustic guitar and voice instills a sense of foreboding and dreamy disinterest that really hits the mark, swerving synth/mellotron patterns in collusion with a rambunctious bass and a breezy disdain for any form of regulation. Slowly the mood reverts to a bolder reality, a sensational piece of modern prog.

Boy, did I ever get a giggle out of "Darvocet Eyes", a drug anthem that would have pleased Waters or Wilson, directly into abject addiction. A now FDA banned drug from the 50s (how quaint is that?) that had more side effects that Sid Barrett had personalities (ouch!), a pain killer that kills the patient in order to kill the pain, talk about Illusion of Control! Needless to state the obvious, the arrangement is bathing in opiate symphonics, cottony pools of piano droplets, oozing and seeping vocals and a true sense of Pink Floydian dysfunction (this song could have been on "the Wall" album) with carousel-like dizziness and a sudden marmalade death. Total winner again.

After all this woozy head, upset stomach and bitter taste in the mouth triumvirate, how about a nice little pop song, eh? It will get us listeners to the end without any withdrawal symptoms! "We All Remember Truth" sounds almost like a long Lost Todd Rundgren tune, short, sweet and airwave friendly.

The title track is another oddball, slightly dissonant rocker, featuring a pungent bass and raw guitars, tied with a surly attitude that keeps the blood boiling and the feet tapping. Once again, Roy's acoustic picking enters the fray, with Bigai moving in with authority from the right and chiseling together a booming and explosive slow-burner that takes no prisoners. There is a slight Blue Oyster Cult tinge that is quite apparent to the studious listener.

"Escape Velocity" is a perfect send-off, another up-beat, organ fueled progressive song that barely reaches 3 minutes, a cool, funky electric piano-led enjoyable ditty that has closer ties to the Cars than anything epic, and certainly far from Floydian. Major barrage of clapping androids.

In all honesty, I enjoyed this album quite a bit, surprised by the quality of the playing and the maturity of the material. But Strattman's aggressive and perhaps more linear style on "the Lie of the Beholder" just blew me sideways, one of the finest US releases in a long time.

4 robotic times

tszirmay | 4/5 |


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