The Secret Machines
It's not only "what was once old is new again" it's "what was once old, tired and disgraced, heroically returns." The whole Punk movement rose out of disgust for the pseudo-intellectualism and ponderous nature of bands like Pink Floyd and Yes. Rock needed to get real, raw and earthy again. In the end Punk won. Art Rock was trashed.
But nothing stays dead in Rock. A new generation discovers the relic, dusts it off, and drives it around. A credible group adds their own embellishments, which leads to Secret Machines.
Secret Machines began in Dallas with Benjamin Curtis (vocals/guitar), Josh Garza (drums) and Brandon Curtis (vocals/bass/keyboards). But feeling Dallas wasn't conducive to their expansive Art Rock, the group moved to New York.
However, their debut release "September 000" was recorded in Chicago. That was followed by the cryptically titled '04 release "Now Here Is Nowhere."
Next out was a six track EP titled "The Road Leads Where It's Led" with covers of Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks," Bob Dylan's "Girl From The North Country" and the classic "Money (That's What I Want)." The full-length "Ten Silver Drops" arrived in '06.
Curtis left Secret Machines a year later to concentrate on School Of Seven Bells with Alejandra and Claudia Deheza (twins). The group, whose name was taken legendary pickpocket training academy, released an EP "Face To Face On High Places," prior to touring. The following year, the ambient-techno outfit issued their full-length debut "Alpinisms."
"September 000" is often so diffuse that it makes Pink Floyd sound like Speed Metal. There are some clever and engaging moments but finding them can be a tad trying.
"Now Here Is Nowhere" has several songs that begin with ethereal or contemplative sounds. "Pharaoh's Daughter," "You Are Chains" and the title track take time, often too much time, to develop. That's why bare-bones Rocker "Nowhere Again" and "Road Leads Where It's Led," containing Nu-Metal motifs, stand out. But the track with the most impact is the Big Brother referencing "Lights On" with the line "somewhere there is a record of your whereabouts." The cacophony of noise, spooky subject matter and harsh vocals make it perfect for Halloween.
EPs, especially when they are released by an established group, tend to fall into two categories. It's either to put out some "stop gap" material between full-length releases or it's the chance to stretch out and do some things that would never appear on a regular album. "The Road Leads Where It's Led" is both, but it leans heavily toward the latter. It starts strong with a pair of epic songs, the title track and "Better Bring Your Friends." Then things unravel. Of the three covers, the stark "Astral Weeks," is the best.
The only reason for covering a song is to give the lyrics a fresh reading or change the arrangement so the song can be heard a new way. That's what Secret Machines attempt but they come up wanting. They drain the joy, lust and arrogant greed from "Money (That's What I Want)" then drop "Girl From The North Country" into a spacey void. The set ends with "Deluxe (Immer Wieder)" but by then it's too late.
On "Ten Silver Drops," the uptempo songs sound like they were created by a progressive '80s Wave band while the ballads are right out of the E.L.O./Styx '70s. They do well with the added structure. But the album starts slow and on the wrong foot with "Alone, Jealous And Stoned." It's a song waiting for something to happen. But Secret Machines quickly recover, with a strong pair of Rock songs, "All At Once (It's Not Important)" and "Lightning Blue Eyes." "I Hate Pretending" is in the same vein as "Light's On" with an air of paranoia and fear. The lean "Fade Lines" is another powerful track but "Daddy's In The Doldrums" is cast adrift. Surprisingly, the CD ends with two moving and effective ballads, "I Want To Know" and "1000 Seconds."