From the title of Morrissey's album Vauxhall and I and the lyrics to his track "Reader Meets Author", some drew the conclusion that he was firing a musical shot across the bow of his almost supernaturally gifted biographer Johnny Rogan, with whom he'd had a love/(mostly)hate relationship over the years. Now, I'm no Mr. Rogan to Autopilot For Lovers' Moz, potential wishes for me to die in a fire aside, but there is a tempting parallel to draw. The title of their new album from Bladen County Records is To The Wolves. As in their band being thrown? Just who are these wolves? The listening public? Pompadoured critics? Literal lupines? I've 'reassured' Adrienne, AIFL's frontwoman, that with their brand of folk/pop/whatever she has nothing to fear in this town, and with this great new disc I think I will be proved right. But will cutting a really good album be enough? Let's take a look.
In my assessment of AIFL's previous album, I expressed a thought that perhaps they were needing a little road grime, something to add depth to their sound. Maybe I was hoping that this album meant that they were going to grow a pelt, heft some rough-hewn axe and devolve To The Wolves. So to speak. They've actually gone the other way- TTW is a very polished album. It sounds great, sophisticated and professional, befitting a band beginning to seize the zeitgizzle in our hot little hamlet.
For me personally, this is the reason that I don't think the album will mean much to me. Portland is crowded with this type of folky stuff, and it certainly seems to be many people's cups of tea. It's great, but not Tony the Tiger grrrreat, and I think it comes back to what I've posited before. There are no risks being taken here. All this 'noir-pop' stuff is territory that has been well-covered and is well-liked here and now. Adding a studio gloss without big-time artistic gravitas, as on To The Wolves, serves only in some cases to steer Autopilot Is For Lovers in the direction of emotive nineties girlie alternative. We don't need any more Heather Novas or Tracy Bonhams, so I'm just warning you kids that it is a slippery slope.
After some repeat listens, the album did grow on me overall, but I did notice something. The lead vocal cadences tend to sound the same, and I think that gets its root in Adrienne Hatkin's lead instrument, the accordion, which also finds its way onto most of the songs on TTW. Now, there is nothing wrong with this instrument- it has graced many fine metal albums such as Voivod's Angel Rat or The Hills Fell Silent by Portland's own Paranaut. Its omnipresence here, and the sameness of its rhythms does nothing to help break Autopilot out of the throng.
So what's the final assessment? Despite my personal disagreements with the band and general level of disinterest in the genre, I find that Autopilot Is For Lovers' To The Wolves is a top notch album of Portland folk pop, one that will appeal greatly not only to the highly attuned audience here in PDX, but people all over as the world's ears get less and less tinny. It's also a sophomore sign that this a band that needs to dig way deeper and get way riskier in order to produce something truly captivating.