Thursday, November 20, 2008

Secret Machines: Secret Machines (3rd album)

I'll start this review with a dirty little four letter word.

PROG !!!

Now, ease back gently & let me elaborate somewhat...

The aforementioned word is not really dirty-except amongst snobby music critics & unadventurous listeners who can't handle tunes that run longer than 5 minutes-or feature unconventional arrangements or time signatures. Why this is relevant is due to something that is totally inescapable: This minor masterpiece just reeks of Prog! Everything about this album features typical prog type influences that are so damn obvious to my own unique musical radar.

So, here's my track by track analysis.

1) "Atomic Heals" This slow burning opener starts out with beefy drums, squawly guitars reverberating metronomically whilst Brandon Curtis wails away about losing his heels.
2) "Last believer, drop dead" A more simplistic repetitive drum pattern anchors this mid tempo tune, with a great combo of guitar effects/chords soaring off into some imagined space.
3) "Have I run out" Starting with supple cymbal splashes, this is another slow burner which kicks into gear at the 1.35 mark, the rhythm picking up a few notches, aided by 2 contrasting guitar lines. Would probably be a monster live in concert. Again, Josh Garza's drumming is first rate. And filled out with powerhouse bombastic synth work (Prog!). First track past the 7 min mark (7.40 to be exact...)
4) "Underneath the concrete" A more urgent up-tempo muscular tune, driven by those pounding, repetitive drums. (If you don't have a great rhythm section in a band, your not really gonna be able to scale the heights of rock 'n roll!). Not my most favorite track, but it will grow on me eventually.
5) "Now your gone" This ballad starts out with the usual machines slow burning intro, then hey, surprise! kicks up a gear or 2 at-you guessed it-the ubiquitous 1.30 mark. But it absolutely comes alive at this point, with a searing lead guitar line, and Brandon's passionate vocal propelling this stunner into the stratosphere.
6) "The Walls are starting to crack" Again, another slow starting ballad which-guess what? yep, your on the money! that bloody 1.30 mark, again...However the true prog influences really kick in at the 4 min point with a scorching synth blast, dynamic lead/melody guitars, some guest backing vocalists wailing away for a short while, before fading out ever so quietly.
7) "I never thought to ask" Easily, this is, A) my favourite track & B) THE most "Proggy" of all these tracks. Beautiful chiming acoustic guitar, spooky/spacey keyboards, soaring reverb drenched vocal, all add up to create one of their most gorgeous atmospheric track's recorded thus far. Reminds me very much of something that an Italian/European group would have recorded in the late 60's/early 70's!
8) "The fire is Waiting" A pulsating, grinding and totally overblown symphonic masterpiece that is just dazzling! Very much a companion piece to the previous track. In fact, this proves just how crucial track sequencing is in trying to make a recording flow and sound as though there's a sort of logical order. Perfect ending to a great record. (And it's the longest track as well, clocking in at very respectable 11 minutes plus!).

This is the 3rd album from this Brooklyn based Group, and the first minus one of the Curtis brothers (Benjamin-who left in March 2007). Any fears that this might have had a destabilizing effect, were thankfully, unfounded. Perhaps freed from constraints & expectations, the revamped line-up (newbie guitarist Phil Karnats) produce easily their most progressive-and dare I say it-best album yet.

Already looking forward to the next one...

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