I'm not really sure why Stylex are as unknown as they are. I mean, they do this neo-new-wave (or whatever you call it) thing better than most of the bands that white belted scensters are drooling over (ahem... Hint Hint) these days. If you mention them to anyone from outside the Toledo/BG area, they just blankly stare, or pretend to know who you're talking about. They have a drummer, a drum machine, 2 different synths, 2 singers, a bassist, and a guitarist and they manage to sound excelent while putting everything they have at their disposal to good use. To me, that's definately some talent.
On this, Stylex's third effort, they no doubt take a new approach. The past two records (Wonder Program and False Start) have been insane Devo-esque mindfucks that I have yet to find anyone who can emulate. Frenetic, caffinated, and claustophobic are a few words that come to mind in describing them. However, on Auto Focus, it's less of a mindfuck and more of a soundtrack to a video game. I mean, it's pretty chilled out when you're simply going through a normal level ("Out of Focus", "Wiggle While You Work It", "Run Off"), then your time starts to run out, and if you know anything about video games, this means the music will change and get urgent ("The Best News"). If you make it through there, you have to take on the mini-boss ("Paragraph") and finally the game's boss ("SuperShadows"). During the end credits, a triumphant ballad of victory is played as a reward for your skill ("Wake Up, Go To Work").
People looking for the same old Stylex will probably be disappointed this time around. It's a little more catchy and hooky than screamy and fast. The screaming and speed are still there on some tracks, it's just not a focus, as it is on their other records. It's more really weird, ominous (dare I say) singing amongst the occasional yelp or screetch. It may take a few listens to grow on you, but I'm certain fans of the genre will like this, or at least a few of the jams.
Stylex is going through an identity crisis. After their EP False Start, I was ready for more of the same, great, new-wave dynamite explosion recorded on the compact disc medium. The first song, "Out of Focus," holds a lot in common with that EP. It's loud, chaotic, and moves along at a brisk pace. Unfortunately the rest of the CD doesn't hold up.
"Wiggle While You Work It" is the second track and one of the best on the disc. Featuring video-game type synths and dual vocals that yell at you, this song is just a shining moment in the career of Stylex altogether. The bridge into the chorus with one person screaming and then the next is excellent. The chorus is catchy as hell with lyrics claiming "I'm not the one you control. I am a machine and I do as I'm told." Fitting lyrics as frontman, Dustin Hostetler, puts on a front that could put a robot to shame at times.
"Run Off" had the potential to be an amazing song. It's got a rather slow tempo but the vocal melodies used for the verse are great. The bridges are perfect in context to the song. The breakdown completely stops the song in it's tracks and brings it back into full swing in a way Stylex has mastered. The chorus of this song is inexcusable though. It doesn't fit at all, the lyrics are horrendous, and it ruins this song for me. Take out that jazz beat and it'd be golden.
Some of the songs on this record are very so-so. It makes me think that maybe this record was rushed after the False Start EP. "Supershadows" is danceable but way too repetitive for it's own good. "Paragraph" is a decent song but doesn't seperate itself enough and ends up sounding like filler. "That's That" is an instrumental intermission song that doesn't seem to go anywhere in the end.
"The Best News" is an alright song. The vocals are pretty unique. They are really loud and in your face, which is a pretty fitting style for Dustin. The music is all over the place and the bass is a tad too loud. The song is falls into repetitive-ness, like a lot of songs on this CD and when it climbs out, it's kind of just annoying.
"Gamerom" starts off with the classic Gameboy noise when you first turn it on. They definetely score with that. The music has an almost creepy vibe to it with a whispering going on in the background. This song is more or less another interlude that goes nowhere and seems like a good idea turned into filler.
"Wake Up, Go To Work" is all about fun. This is the song where you bust out your NES, Power Pad, and your copy of Dance Aerobics for some straight up Richard Simmons type workout. It's really repetitive but it doesn't seem to matter in this song. They change it up just a little bit with each passing moment so it kind of keeps it fresh. The CD finishes up with "Autofocus." Stylex has mastered the ability to put very unique, yet, fitting vocal melodies over their chaotic songs. This song is no exception. The bass is the good guy of this song, leading the song by it's hand while the vocal melodies are pulling the other hand of the song to show all the bad things in life. It's very interesting. The ending makes me want to pull out Ridge Racer if anything.
All in all this CD is hit and miss. Some of their best material yet is on here and they are still showing potential to be on top of the new wave game. It seemed after False Start, they were almost at the destination, but with this CD they found out that there is still another couple towns to go through. If they could cut out the filler, focus on the great moments of this disc, and maybe record with someone other than themselves, they could record a masterpiece. For now, we'll have to take this little above average disc to hold us over.
6.7 / 10
Reviewed by 2 writers.
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