Autogramm – Music That Humans Can Play

  • Cole Faulkner posted
  • Reviews


Music Humans Can Play - Stomp Records

As someone who has spent approaching two decades reviewing contemporary punk and alternative, my recent dive into the 80’s synth-pop and the new-wave scene might feel a little out of place – at least initially.  At the risk of losing what little ‘street cred’ I’ve accrued, I’ve been hitting up local thrift shops in search of 80’s gems in the vein of Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, Styx, and The Cars, while unearthing unexpected finds by Level 42 and KajaGooGoo, and in the process receiving an education in forgotten Canadian gems by the likes of BB Gabor, Stanley Frank and even Black Cars era Gino Vanelli.  

And how did I end up down this rabbit hole?  On the surface this might feel like quite a divergence, but it’s actually the punk scene that piqued my curiosity.  In particular, I’ve always been drawn to synth-driven side projects like those from Alkaline Trio (Heavens, solo Matt Skiba) and AFI (Blaqk Audio), with both bands drawing heavily on the early 80s for inspiration.  So many of the bands have been influenced from beyond their categorized genre, and that hidden lineage shines through the longer these bands exist.

All of this is a long winded way of saying that a few years ago I might have passed up Autogramm’s Stomp Records debut, Music That Humans Can Play, but today I dive in with anticipation.  Hailing from geographically diverse origins of Seattle, Chicago, and Vancouver, the quartet is not shy to wear their influences firmly on their sleeve.  Put simply, Autogramm is a modern celebration of new wave, power-pop and synth-driven retrograde that emphasizes the fun, colourful soundscape of the 80s, while maintaining contemporary appeal.

Opening with “Born Losers,” the album takes listeners by the hand and immediately leads them to the deep end of the synth-pop pool.  The sugary lofi hooks and soft pulsing synth make for a flood of warm, feel-good vibes reminiscent of The Cars.  Similar highlights include “Yesterday,” “Dive Right In,” and “Love is for Fools,” which confidently lean into Autogramm’s power-pop roots.  Not every track on Music That Humans Can Play dives quite so deep, but as an opener, Autogramm shows little restraint and maximizes enthusiasm.  Other tracks like “Wannabe” and “Westbound” shed the electro-bias for a combination of reverb-heavy, garage-coated 80’s alternative in the spirit of revivalist bands like Wavves.  

Not surprisingly, Autogramm has the most fun when it comes to new wave inspired tracks like “Plastic Punks” and “Why Do We Dance.”  The latter jerks along with a playful buoyancy, punctuating robotic-inspired vocals with sci-fi landing sound effects, while the former lets loose with space lasers and a quickening tempo.  The band employs this shield of fiction to make very real social commentary about the decline of authentic human contact. “I’m a prisoner of my own device” proclaims vocalist Jiffy Marx, followed by a declaration that, “This is a place of acceptance / This is a place of resistance / This is a place of existence / You ask me why do we dance? Why don’t you give it a chance?”  It’s a timely critique in a digital world where screens cloud connection.  Such moments make for welcome parallels with Green Day’s lesser known new wave project, The Network, and a very specific retro revival era of The Aquabats (something between Floating Eye of Death and Charge!).  Think an energizing combination of Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, and Erasure with the robotic undercurrent “Mr. Roboto” era of Styx and you’ll get the picture. 

Autogramm has been quietly gaining momentum for the past few years and their Stomp Records debut is a successful mission statement to an unsuspecting audience.  With the band blending their combination of lofi jams and hot neon synth retrograde, there isn’t a dud in sight on Music That Humans Can Play (although I lost a little bit of flow with the indie-esque “Always Gonna Be My Girl”).  Bands that draw inspiration from the past often risk leaning too heavily into nostalgia, but Autogramm skirts this pitfall by invoking a wide basin of inspiration, all the while leaning into contemporary relevance.  Music That Humans Can Play has hooked me, ensuring that I’ll be digging into Autogramm’s back catalog all the while staying tuned for future offerings.