"Tell myself I don’t need you / Tell myself I don’t care about you,” croons Travis Atreo in an aching pair of lines from his recent collaboration with Neko X James in “Automatic,” with each of his words pummeling us with an emotionality that you don’t find every day in pop music. Neko X James are perhaps the perfect duo for Atreo to join forces with, and with an ambitiously crafted number like “Automatic,” all of their unique talents are exploited for everything they’re worth individually and collectively. Evocative nuances are sewn into the very fabric of the main melody, and while the beats are high and mighty, the harmonies that are woven in between their ridges are anything but overpowering, even at their most uncontrollable and indulgent.
Neko and James both have backgrounds in heavy metal, and that’s more than obvious when we take a look at the super-strength in this mix. Every instrumental facet is equalized and stripped of its middle depth, creating a forceful, adrenaline-packed thunder in the bass and drums that is almost impossible to escape when it gets fired up in the chorus. Atreo navigates the sonic channels quite well, and from where I sit, much better than any of his peers possibly could have. Neko X James make godlike grooves in “Automatic,” and it takes a particularly adept singer to manage not only their size, but perhaps more importantly, their complicated arrangement as its displayed for us in this setting. In a live capacity, it’s hard to imagine a DJ dropping this on the turntable and the whole club not responding to the rhythm infecting the atmosphere with eroticism.
There’s a lot of understated jazz tones in the structure of the tempo in “Automatic,” but due to the sprawling synth melodies, they’re not as eccentric as they would have been in a more black and white master mix. For the most part, Neko X James are avoiding the very notion of using a formulaic approach to these beats, and their attention to the littlest of details in this song is constantly evidenced by the acrylic nature of the music. Texture and tonality are more important to these guys than anything else, and that alone makes them a more credible pairing than any others currently making noise in the underground, or for that matter, the mainstream.
Fusing a melting pot of influences into a single expression of emotion is no easy task even for the most talented of performers, but in the case of Neko X James’ “Automatic,” this collaborative vehicle plus Travis Atreo make it look all too simple. As its title implies, this single doesn’t take a lot of deep analysis for listeners to fall head over heels for its purely divine design and surreal substance, and that’s not something that can be said for the majority of pop songs that have made their way to my desk this spring. This is top quality stuff, and I’m confident that it’s as unique an offering as you’re going to come across in the pop/rock genre this season.