The tight post-punk structure of Autochrome

Polished finish
By JONATHAN DONALDSON  |  March 30, 2012

RIP IT UP Part of Autochrome's early success comes from the fact that their music fulfills a very well-defined sonic niche that people want to inhabit: '70s and '80s post-punk. 
Sitting around the kitchen table listening to music with Autochrome bassist/singer Jeff Bartell and guitarist Richard Murillo, I realize that before we even started talking, we certainly agreed on this: when the guitar kicks in on "Senses" from their forthcoming self-released album, Separation Realms, it sends chills down the spine.

The Boston quartet, which also includes guitarist/keyboardist Kate Murray and drummer Patrick Florance, spent the later months of 2011 recording their debut with Chris McLaughlin at 1867 Recording Studios. According to Murillo, Separation Realms' period details — from its crisp, gated drums to its densely compressed guitar melodies — came by way of McLaughlin applying his production powers to the band's crystal vision. "He was able to take it to the next level," says Murillo. "The next retro level."

The retro-ness relates to the music made in what Murillo calls his favorite (and goal-post-shifting) decade: 1977-1987. Separation Realms' stand-out track "Hands Over the City" recalls lovely Liverpudlians Echo & the Bunnymen. When I mention this, Murillo and Bartell's eyes light up like the lights at Anfield, where our own Fenway Sports Group–owned Liverpool FC plays.

A familiar sound can sometimes be a common language for a band — especially for a new one like Autochrome, who met not as friends but as strangers trying to find their musical place in the ever-expanding Boston market. Bartell, a Massachusetts native, and Florance, originally from California, began to put Autochrome together in late 2010 after jamming on the side while working with psych rocker Josiah Webb in Magic Shoppe. Next to join were Murillo and the classically trained rock-scene newbie Murray (both are from North Carolina).

Part of their early success thus far, which included a showcase slot at Deep Heaven Now, a gig with Caspian, and "Song of the Year" honors from WZBC's Flyweight radio show for the demo to "Senses," can be attributed to the practical karma that comes from Autochrome's enthusiastic support of other Boston bands. "All of us are local-show nuts," says Bartell, gushing over the likes of Ghost Box Orchestra, Soccer Mom, and Guillermo Sexo. "I've seen, like, one or two national acts in the past year. We're pushing to be part of a community."

Another part of their success comes from the fact that Autochrome's music fulfills a well-defined sonic niche that people want to inhabit. After all, for some rock fans, post-punk in particular represents Ground Zero more than Chuck Berry ever could. Now on its third wave (early-'00s bands like Franz Ferdinand and Interpol led the second), post-punk has created fans that still can't get enough of the genre's pulsing downstrokes and primitive, moody rhythms.

Bartell notes that Autochrome's collective spiritual influences range across the usual darkwave/post-punk suspects: the Cure, New Order, Gang of Four, and on a less obvious but nonetheless accurate note, the Chameleons — a band whose fastidious lines and sour disposition are carrying through in Autochrome's music 30 years later. But they're not limited by those easy comparisons. "Once the foundation was built, we were like, okay, here are the parameters, let's try to stay inside this," says Bartell. "But now we say, 'Does it sound like us?'"

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