If you’ve been following the pop underground lately, you’ve no doubt heard about the forthcoming collaborative singles from sonic scholars Neko X James, the first of which, “Automatic (featuring Travis Atreo),” is being released this March. With all of the buzz surrounding the project, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was offered the opportunity to review “Automatic” ahead of its official debut, but I was totally taken aback by what I heard in the song. Travis Atreo gives up his sexiest singing to date in this single, but it’s Neko X James that end up taking the lion’s share of our attention with their high-velocity grooving.
Right off the bat, the bouncy beats are captivating us with their raucous rumble, and though the bassline is as heavy as a bloated elephant, it’s evened out by the fluorescent vocal track. With surgical precision, Atreo lays into the verses without anything to get between us and his softened lead vocal, which forms a binding grip around anyone within earshot long before we ever get into the hook-laden chorus. The studded grooves get a lot more violent as the song continues on, as does the minute churn in the bass.
The vocals vie for the center of the spotlight but face a cantankerous contender in the synthesizer, which is utilized as a painter would use a slim-pointed brush to add definition to an already evocative landscape. Erotic temptation is inserted into the harmonizing between the synth and the bass, and even though the lyrics themselves are, to some degree, about the disintegration of love, the melody enveloping them here provokes the polar opposite in my mind. The duality in the narrative lends to the enigmatic context of the verses, which is really the essence of progressive songwriting when you think about it.
There’s a lot of colorful detail in the drums that I think deserves as much praise as the vocals or the mix do in this track. It’s not very often that I’m able to say it about any single, let alone a collaborative one, but “Automatic” is a track that is effortlessly soul-stirring in every way that a pop song can be without giving itself over the shapelessness of ambient music. You can tell that all three of these artists have a connection with the music here that goes beyond a desire to make a living; for Neko X James and Travis Atreo, the music they make is, for all intents and purposes, an exercise in unadulterated spirituality.
“Automatic” is absolutely one of my favorite songs of 2019, and a confirmed must-listen for club kids, dance/pop enthusiasts and fans of affectionate melodicism everywhere. Neko X James plan to follow-up this track up with “Mad” on April 19th, “Combat” on May 3rd, and “All to You” on May 17th, and after becoming wholly addicted to the freewheeling beats of this single, I’m counting the days leading up to the release of more content from this stellar duo. Trevor Atreo gives a noteworthy performance in this song, but I think that no matter who gets into the booth with these Neko X James, the results will have us talking just the same.