Coming after Shadows Collide With People and The Will to Death, Automatic Writing -- credited to Ataxia -- is part of the onslaught of John Frusciante projects released in 2004 through Warner subsidiary Record Collection. The guitarist is aided by now-regular associate Josh Klinghoffer on drums and synthesizer; Fugazi's Joe Lally plays bass. All three played roles in the songwriting process, and the recording has a very spontaneous, searching thrust to it, so it makes total sense that it's credited to a band -- as opposed to Frusciante's relatively private-sounding solo releases. Frusciante made a point to credit early PiL for being a major inspiration; that band's Metal Box is indeed an apt point of reference, with the album's long-form tracks (taken to a further extreme here) and skeletal, wide-open arrangements fostering a desultory, claustrophobic touch. This is, however, no attempt to re-create Metal Box. Frusciante's spindly guitar generates cautious prickles rather than abrupt slashes, Lally's deep basslines rumble rather than throb, Klinghoffer's drums are more heavy on the toms than the bass drum; in fact, the bleak, sparse nature of most of these 45 minutes recall the quieter passages of Fugazi's "Suggestion." On each track, Frusciante's vocals cast an anguished shade, involving spooky howls, distressed falsettos, and wordless mumbles that sound like they were recorded while his mouth was crammed with balls of cotton. His ever-developing synth playing -- closer to piercing accents than anything musical -- makes the occasional welcomed interruption. At times, there's a little too much puttering around going on, but the majority of the album is both haunting and bracing enough to keep you anxiously awaiting the next development. One does get the feeling that this album and the one that followed (from the same sessions) could've been condensed into one hour-long slab.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman