Every musician has a guilty pleasure, a closet full of vinyl that dare not speak its name. For the rappers, it might be a butt-rock arsenal that would charm the leather pants off a hesher at 50 yards; for the alternative-country kids, maybe it's all the Goth and Nu-Romantic that never quite turned to dust. For spastic punk rock guitarist Rop Vaquez, it must be a helluva hip-hop collection because his new project hails from somewhere a lot closer to Beat Street than Clash City.
"You know, in your subconscious mind, there is a little place, right before the excited place, that place where everybody knows your name," says Vaquez on the band's website. "That's what we sound like."
Um, okay. But you could also describe Semiautomatic as garage electronica, or the soundtrack to the Blade Runner sequel they never made, or what happens when old-school hip-hop and no-school punk gets all twisted up by a couple of kids who don't think any pleasure needs to be qualified as guilty anymore.
Maybe you remember Vaquez's grand mal guitar work in it's-a-joke-band-right? Rice. Maybe you remember how he later shimmied his way to notoriety with snot-ball garagers the Peechees (who atomized into bands like the Pattern and the reunited Bratmobile). But did you ever hear of DJ Ropstyle, hauling out the turntables at all the punker parties? Because about the only ghost of Vaquez's rock & roll past appearing in the present is that same stubbornly scruffy aesthetic—otherwise, Semiautomatic is Ropstyle all the way.
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Teamed up with art-damage diva (and vocalist and bassist and more) Akiko Carver, Vaquez put Semiautomatic together in the same avant NYC lofts that would birth Le Tigre—you can feel the same lo-fi eight-bit ethos humming under both bands, but Semiautomatic eschew the amped-up dance-pop stuff for music that's more organic, more understated and more experimental.
"No sequencers were used on this recording," they inform us. Instead, it's back-to-basics turntabling and dreamy, Stereolab-style synthesizer cooing that backbone Semiautomatic's self-titled CD (on Olympia's micro-indie 5RC Records). These beats are layered like ships passing in the night—very quiet and very, very big—and just when you're about to relax, that raw punk unpredictability up and nips you in the ass (is that Godzilla roaring in the background? And where'd that spike of feedback come from?).
But really, don't worry about the rock & roll reference points. When Semiautomatic is really firing, it's what you want to listen to after the rock & roll. It's the perfect up-all-night come-down music, the sort of subtle sonic snowstorm that sounds just right when you're blearily watching the sun come up and trying not to swerve off the freeway. No punk shock here. With Semiautomatic, you just sink in.
Semiautomatic perform with the Soiled Doves, Nightmare Syndicate and A Fire Next Time at Koo's Art Cafe, 1505 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 648-0937; www.koos.org. Thurs., July 5, 7:30 p.m. $5. All ages.