By design or fate, AUTOMatic has always been interested in the long game. The emcee/producer duo of APRIME and Trellmatic has been a fixture of Milwaukee hip-hop since 2007, releasing three full-length albums, a handful of EPs and mixtapes, and the occasional solo offshoot. The city’s musical landscape has changed considerably since then—doubly so for hip-hop—but AUTOMatic has remained. Now, with the release of the aptly named Marathon, the group makes a play for the crown of generation-spanning Milwaukee music royalty.
Marathon is AUTOMatic’s first LP since 2012’s Art Imitates Life; happily, the four-year hiatus hasn’t dulled APRIME or Trellmatic’s focus. “This is AUTOMatic in its purest form / Crystalized, rhyme-spitting,” raps the former on mission statement “Pure AUTOMatic,” dubbing the group’s work “soundtrack of the last-of-the-dying-breed music.” From there, it’s a cascade of lushly produced, jazz- and R&B-inflected tracks that never waver in their optimism. Both Prince and Pokemon Go get shout-outs in the bright and brassy “The Neverending.” The pleasures of buying music and coming out to shows are extolled in the head-nodding “Speak To Me.” Elsewhere, Vincent VanGREAT drops in on the lovely “The Promise,” SigNif and Stricklin take over on the nimble “Triple Lindy,” the positively transcendent “Five Bands” looks back on the innocence of childhood and keeping your dreams alive, and lead single (and album closer) “Talkin’ Bout Love” makes a case for—what else?—love: “I’m talkin’ ’bout that real woman and a man love / I’m talkin’ real woman-woman, man-man love / It’s a different style but it’s all the same brand love.”
Clocking in at roughly 30 minutes, Marathon is a compact and cohesive album that nevertheless goes the distance in its short runtime. It’s also AUTOMatic’s finest work to date, and a much-needed shot of love and unity when both seem to be in short supply. “When’s the rain gonna stop? / Because I’m gonna need a bunch of sunshine,” asks APRIME over the undeniable funk of “The Need.” It’s a question that needs answering, now more than ever. For what it’s worth, Marathon is a small ray of that sunshine.
AUTOMatic celebrates the release of Marathon Friday, November 11 at the Cactus Club. Vincent VanGREAT, El Shareef, and DJ Andrew Optimist are also on the bill.