Turn on Dust Clouds May Exist, the debut album by Creature Automatic, and hear something familiar and something completely new. This is pop music that makes pop music strange again. Creature Automatic, the recording project of Brooklyn composer, improviser, and producer Robbie Lee, weaves together unlikely influences into an adventurous set of fourteen surprising songs. At its core, Dust Clouds May Exist is classic songwriting: flawlessly crafted, featuring catchy hooks and memorable riffs, exuberant and melancholy. But it’s also an experimental opus, with Lee playing some of the fabulously unusual instruments he’s become known for: mellotrons, crumhorns, and portatif organ alongside the usual guitars, drums, and piano.
While the lead-off cut – “Say It’s Right Now” – could be a long-lost Pete Townshend demo from an album that never was, the record soon heads into a darker, mysterious place. The brooding piano of “Rain Steam and Speed” and the haunted atmosphere summoned by the imaginary travelogue, “Antikythera” are complemented by tracks such as “Fludd’s Folly,” a long-form ambitious instrumental combining bell-like guitars with the buzzy, otherworldly Renaissance crumhorn. Like the true pop songs on the album, it follows a rambling shambolic path, always anchored in backwards sweet harmony.
Robbie Lee is also a well-known improviser and experimental musician who has closely collaborated with Mary Halvorson, Brian Chase (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Che Chen and Jozef Van Wissem. After releasing his first album of lo-fi bedroom songs (Sleep, Memory) under his own name in 2006, Lee put his songwriting on hold during several years on the road backing rock luminaries such as Neil Michael Hagerty (Royal Trux), Love As Laughter, and Dax Riggs. He has also recorded and performed with Cass McCombs, Eleanor Friedberger, Baby Dee, and Seaven Teares,
among many others.