Autopilot – ‘Desert Dreams’


You can tell a lot about a band by taking a look at the way they craft their sound. Autopilot, a Canadian indie rock group, has some intriguing methods that hooked me immediately. Laying of guitar effects, dynamic drum beats, and bow-played guitar are all present on their new record, ‘Desert Dreams.’ I’m compelled, because let’s face it: playing a guitar with a bow is quite badass. That’s some Jimmy Page influence right there.

The landscapes that Autopilot crafts on ‘Desert Dreams’ are certainly unique, but for a band that claims to dabble in progressive experimentalism, it isn’t anything you haven’t heard before. Genre-wise, they sound like a great deal of bands who classify themselves as ‘indie rock’ nowadays. That’s not a bad thing; it may not be as original as the band believes, but it’s a sound that’s awesome when done properly.

‘Oceanside’ is probably the highlight of the first half of the record: it’s catchy and well-written. As you descend deeper into ‘Desert Dreams,’ however, the sound becomes more and more dynamic. ‘This City,’ for example, has hints of Pink Floyd scattered throughout. ‘Crossing Borderlines’ offers one of the more rewarding experiences as well with excellent instrumentation.

I must address the elephant in the room, however. Vocalist Marlon Harder should probably hang up the mic and add a new vocalist to the outfit. As much as I want to enjoy ‘Desert Dreams,’ I find myself cringing and turning down the volume every time his vocals hit. He’s singing way too high and whenever he enters that higher octave that he frequently occupies, he’s painful to listen to it grates on your ears.

The prog rock vibe is also apparent on ‘Tuesday Afternoon Processions.’ Unfortunately, I found myself turning down the volume whenever Harder would arrive on the mic. Unsurprisingly, my favorite track was ‘Desert Dreams Part III,’ an absolutely stunning instrumental that stands as the most poignant piece on the whole record. The emotion and delivery of that song without vocals is infinitely more powerful than Harder’s squeaky vocals on the previous six tracks.

I get really disappointed when a quality band has a vocalist not suited to them. As I mentioned, I want to dig this music. I can’t as long as that lead vocalist is at the helm. He just can’t sing, and I’m not trying to be a harsh critic in that regard. I always strive to be honest, even if that’s not what a band may want to hear.

Check out Autopilot still, they’re worth a listen and you may find yourself less battered by the vocals than myself. As a result of them, the only track I’d return to is ‘Desert Dreams Part III.’ At the very least, go check out that instrumental; it’s marvelous.

bv Brett Stewart