Review Summary: Secret Machines are now a one-brother outfit only, but remain just as stubborn in their pursuit of plodding, self-important space rock.
Losing one half of the brother duo that founded psychedelic space-rock outfit the Secret Machines didn’t stop remaining brother Brandon Curtis and third founding member Josh Garza from continuing on with their Led Zeppelin-worshipping ways on their self-titled third record. Secret Machines, despite the exit of guitarist Benjamin Curtis, sounds much the same as their previous two records did, and while maintaining the polished production of Ten Silver Drops and the heavy, thudding sonic assault of their debut, it somehow loses a little of both in the end result.
The album starts off promisingly with the stomping “Atomic Heels,” which has a scorching guitar riff to go along with one of their most accessible psych-pop products yet. “Last Believer, Drop Dead” is less catchy and more grounded in the barrage of spacey guitar that has characterized their sound, but while taking a while to develop, pays off with a ringing, wall-of-sound style solo at the end.
From there, however, things start to get a little same-y. “Haven I Run Out” is plodding and musically muddy, and its seven-and-a-half minute length rapidly becomes tiresome, especially with a pointless guitar freakout that goes nowhere. Vocalist Brandon Curtis sounds more bored than anything else on “Underneath The Concrete” despite the intriguing melody, and the song’s ending is anticlimactic.
The following two songs up the ante a little bit, luckily breaking up the prog-rock monotony first with a catchy, energetic performance by Curtis on the multi-tracked wizardry of “Now You’re Gone.” and the decidedly odd “The Walls Are Starting To Crack” starts off like a slow jam space opera before surprising with a cosmic roar of guitar power halfway through a bizarre instrumental break that calls to mind both Alice and Wonderland and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Alas, the Secret Machines fall prey to the clichés of their genre on the last couple of songs, the first being an ill-advised psychedelic ballad that swallows itself in waves of reverb and the latter being a way-too-long (11+ minutes) jam no doubt meant to close the album in grand fashion. Instead, it falters along one too many instrumental paths and never reaches a truly satisfactory ending for a track of its size.
While the Secret Machines have dealt with their fair share of bad luck over the years (Benjamin quitting, poor commercial success vs. critical acclaim), the window of opportunity is rapidly closing for a band that has made few deviations to its sound over the years. Secret Machines is the kind of record that will continue to please the band’s fans, but won’t exactly be making any groundbreaking waves in the industry over the next few months.