Dan the Automator is one of the greatest producers not to be a household name. Unlike Just Blaze and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Automator does not tag his tracks but his distinct style has become a trademark through his work on Deltron 3030, Head Automatica‘s Decadance, and Gorillaz‘ eponymous debut. His latest project is Pillowfight, a collaboration with singer Emily Wells. Wells’ sultry voice is somewhere between Macy Gray and Gin Wigmore and serves as a perfect compliment to Automator’s often swank neo-soul-esque production.
On the album’s opening track “Used to Think,” Automator’s production includes a wall-of-organs and live sounding hip hop drums. The track has a certain haunting feel but still manages to be poppy. Wells’ strong vocal hook is enhanced with haunting male backing vocals that seem to be lifted from a time past.
The album’s strongest track is arguable “Get Your Shit Together.” Wells gives her edgiest performance of the album on the track’s chorus. She sings “get you shit together/at your pity party/it’s the one you started/it’ll be the end of you” over a triumphant horn line that sounds like something Jay-Z would rap over. It’s no wonder the track was the album’s lead single.
The album does have its share of weak points though. “Darlin’ Darlin'” features a lazy lounge beat and a sweetly sung chorus. Essentially it is a pleasant song but it has no emotion behind it. It feels like a boring attempt to ape Lana Del Rey. Similar thing can be said of the early album stinker, “Rain.” While the instrumental is a little more inspired on “Rain,” Wells does little with it instead being content to sound like Norah Jones doing a Nancy Sinatra impression.
The album’s oddest track is the mid-album offering, “Get Down.” In an album working to build 1960’s swank pathos, “Get Down” features a Michael Jackson beat, thumping funk bass, and old skool hip hop scratching. While its not a bad song, its the only dance song on the album. Its an outlier that can’t be ignored and would have been better served as a b-side.
The album’s share of missteps are somewhat balanced by its successes. While nothing on the album is an out and out terrible listen, there are disappointments–perhaps only because the high points are so high. Because of those great tracks though, the album is definitely worth checking out.
MP3: Pillowfight “Get Your Shit Together”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl