There’s always been something special to me about the summer time and soul, funk, disco and hip hop dance music. It’s my feeling summer in particular is the season in which funk flourishes. Something about the excitement of a dance rhythm seems to be the perfect soundtrack to the warm weather’s improvement of human mood and attitude. It’s only May, but I can already put The Spandettes “Automatic” on my summer time playlist. The 13 member combo from Canada’s song is a triumphant, giddy feel good music opus about an attraction that happens easily, smoothly, and naturally, somewhat like the best summer time connections.
The track kicks in the door with a pounding drum beat, four on the floor, just like during the reign of disco. The hi hats set the pace, making the song feel much faster than it actually is, playing a sixteenth note pattern with some extra acrobatics in place, some 16th note quadruplets to keep you honest. The 4 bar drum intro, a staple of dance funk one rarely hears these days, is soon joined by the rest of the band, Bass, Electric Piano, Guitar, and Horns. The bass player plays a very simple but effective and funky Afro-Carribean-Latin dance line that anticipates the beat and outlines the chord changes. The guitar player chooses to join forces with the drummer’s hi hat, playing a funky, rhythmically busy 16th note, guitar scratch and one note line, perfectly locked with the drummer’s cymbals. The horn section comes in with a brash, celebratory, triumphal voicing, with the trumpets playing a very attention getting note at the top of the voicing, with the whole band giving way to the guitar players very similar chord, a mean splangalang played high on the neck of the guitar, with those attention grabbing notes on the top.
The three female singers for the band are Alex Tait, Maggie Hopkins, and Lizzy Clarke. The lead singer sings a tune of instant attraction, the kind that quickly breaks down any hard to get, legs crossed (closed) posturing, “No way to control it/it’s to-ta-lly au-to-ma-tic/whenever you’re around.” The melody she sings reminds me of two ’80s songs, Jeffery Osbourne’s work on “Plane Love” and the DeBarge’s melody on “Rhythm of the Night.” The horns riff along in support of the vocals the whole way.
One aspect of the song that really impresses me is the song structure, in addition to the general big, bright, sunny dance funk vibe. The song is well constructed from a pop sense, as if the Spandettes had in mind making a #1 funk and pop HIT. There is a nice stop and start groove leading to the chorus, during which the ladies croon the word “Automatic” broken down to syllables, in their three part harmony. This is backed by a nice jazzy, softly blown horn chart. At 2:25 in, the band gets their time to shine, in a nice break/instrumental interlude that lasts from 2:25-2:49. The break has space for the horns and bass, the electric piano, and the drummer to all shine.
“Automatic” is a bouyant, feel good song that I hope will serve as a soundtrack for some great moments for me in Summer ’14. What impresses me the most, besides the Spandettes singing, songwriting, and musicianship, is the audacity they have to make a funky song in 2014 with the clear design of a radio/club/popular hit in mind. Instead of treating funk as if it was some dusty relic that’s power relied only in it’s obscurity, The Spandettes remember funk use to be the soundtrack for a lot of peoples good times. And they aren’t giving up any ground to hip hop, EDM, dance punk, Indie, or any other music form out there. “Automatic” is a cute, fun song with a proper “hands in the air” bounce that can rock clubs, wedding receptions, cover band gigs, and many other functions. And in this musically (and culturally) segmented world we live in, such versatility of groove is essential. So I invite you to put this on your summer party list along with the Margarita mix.