Head Automatica Packs a Pop Punch

Daryl Palumbo, healthy again and decked out in spats, returns with a powerful live act

July 27, 2006 9:43 AM ET

A bold title says a lot, and popsters Head Automatica went for transparency with their second album, Popaganda, released earlier this summer. With its startling, pop-packed sound, the Daryl Palumbo-fronted outfit opted for a major sonic shift, veering away from the electronic- and dance-influenced sound fans might have expected. Palumbo says, definitively, "This is a power-pop, rock & roll record."

Originally founded as a project between Palumbo, also the singer for hardcore act Glassjaw, and producer Dan the Automator (Gorillaz, Handsome Boy Modeling School), Head Automatica released their major-label debut, Decadence, in 2004, which combined Dan's club-friendly beats with Palumbo's punk leanings. The pair assembled a touring band and hit the road in support of local art rockers Interpol, the Rapture, as well as California pop-punk act Thrice. But Palumbo's struggles with Crohn's disease, a serious and sometimes debilitating intestinal illness, forced the band to cancel several tour dates in both 2004 and 2005.

With the singer's health currently under control, however, Popaganda is brighter in sound and outlook than Decadence, and the band -- guitarist Craig Bonich, bassist Jarvis Morgan Holden, keyboarist Jessie Nelson and drummer Larry Gorman -- has already managed to tear through a spate of high-profile summer dates. A gig at Coachella was followed by a tour with Angels and Airwaves and fellow New York rockers (and emo stalwarts) Taking Back Sunday. Their live act, led by a charismatic, mop-topped Palumbo -- typically decked out in a dark suit and white spats, spitting spiky pop vocals that recall a young Elvis Costello -- is supercharged.

On the album, credit is due to producer Howard Benson (My Chemical Romance, P.O.D.) for aiding that momentum -- from the surging, sugary "Graduation Day," with is boffo pop hooks, to the effervescent second single, "Lying Through Your Teeth." Unlike their debut disc, a beat-heavy, pulsing album, on this record guitars rule.

Palumbo chocks it up to a serious shift in the music they were listening to. "The British Invasion -- that's the trip we're on," he explains. Adds Bonich, "You can't really top that." The guitarist insists that the sonic redirection "dictated itself." "It came out and it flowed, and those are the best kinds of songs."

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