Some records demand the closest of attention, the most probing scrutiny, upon which they promise to uncloak their hearts and unravel their inner sonic secrets. But Ataxia, an ad hoc collaboration between the Red Hot Chili Peppers' John Frusciante and Fugazi's Joe Lally, is one of rock's glaring rarities: a band that sounds best when you're not really listening to it. Put your ear too close, and you might feel your bile rise at all of Automatic Writing's ebullient noodling and alternately whining/growling vocals. Not that Frusciante's guitar work is as bad as it could be; he's always been infinitely cooler and more elegantly restrained than the rest of the Chili Peppers, and his previous solo albums have been as confoundingly schizoid as they have admirably uncommercial. But with five songs averaging nine minutes each, Automatic can't even be saved by Lally's rumbling, Jah Wobble-swiped slabs of low-end thrum. Your only hope is to put your headphones around your neck, punch up the bass boost and stare off at something much more attention-grabbing and dynamic -- like, say, the hour hand of a clock.
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