Album Review: Mildlife – ‘Automatic’

Phase, the debut album by Australian band Mildlife, was a bonafide word of mouth discovery upon its release in early 2018. It’s mellow combination of groove propelled psychedelic jazz and disco, performed with a nod to Kosmische, Balearic, Scandinavian and Adriatic favours, caught a wave with a snowballing swell of support that united various scenes’ in-crowds in praise. The memorable swooping synthesizer riffs of the DJ Harvey endorsed ‘The Magnificent Moon’ floated from the turntables of the more expanded-minded clubs and festivals everywhere that summer. Witnessed at Bristol’s The Lanes venue during their 2019 UK tour, it was obvious that on stage was where Mildlife were found in their natural habitat. Playing it cool, and with the opportunity to explore their – then still limited – set of expansive cosmic jams, the band excelled, a throng of warm bodies oscillating hypnotically in response. 

Now signed to UK indie Heavenly, their follow up album Automatic continues where Phase left off, though with more disciplined songwriting and – to these ears – a fair influence of Prog, most notably in the vocals of Kevin McDowell. Similarly to Phase, the album’s 40ish minutes are laid out over only six tracks, having clearly felt no pressure to reign in each piece’s duration. 

It takes a luxurious one and half minutes before fully introducing itself, but ‘Rair Air’ is a comforting start, its steady smooth grooves full of skywards melodic structure and packed with familiar Mildlife elements. Released as a single earlier this year with remixes from Colleen Murphy and Optimo’s JD Twitch, ‘Vapour’ also sticks to a familiar path, built upon layers of riffs, percussion and a solid turn of jazz flute. ‘Citations’ is a mammoth nine minute Ned Dohney ‘Get It Up For Love’ inspired epic, although it doesn’t quite find its own identity. Built for dancers, ‘Memory Palace’ finds Mildlife at their most laid back on Automatic. With space and time to leisurely explore the groove, the expressive George Benson-esque guitar & vocal scats sound like they’re thoroughly enjoying themselves.  

By contrast, the album’s title track and closer points in other directions, the aforementioned influence of Prog borrowing from the likes of more sample friendly parts of The Alan Parsons project but also drawing on late-70s-space-synth-machine sounds. To existing fans, the introspective tension may be unfamiliar, the band patiently waiting to raise their instruments beyond minimal movement, but it’s where the album reaches some of its most interesting moments. 

These tracks ache to be absorbed in the live arena but, while the world waits to move again, Automatic is custom made for dancing in your head. 

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