The Secret Machines made quite a stir with their 2004 release, Now Here is Nowhere
. Although firmly rooted in Indie and Alternative, the album displayed a hint of -- prog rock. Pretentious prog rock at that. It's extremely rare for any indie band's first track to clock in at 9:00, or to end on a 8:53 reprise. But The Secret Machines set out to prove them wrong, and spun a pretty successfull debut that shattered some of the conventions of the genre. Think Coheed and Cambria
meets Death Cab for cutie
With Ten Silver Drops
, released this week, The Secret Machines haven't altered the formula much. Although the first track lasts for a mere 6:48, they still retain the anthemic and epic approach to songwriting exhibited in their first release. But in many ways, the album is more immediately accessible, as the Machines appear to be growing musically as a band.
If anything, they've learned the secret of pop hooks, and volume dynamics, focusing on composition rather than loud guitar riffs. The first track 'Alone,Jealous, and Stoned', fulfills the potential briefly shown in 'You are Chains' from the last album. The song, although incredibly melancholic, has a kind of quiet beauty that seems to grow as each carefully crafted guitar and vocal rhythm is added to the piece. The singing remains rather monotone and stripped back, but nevertheless it has a deep expression. Although the words 'I'm waiting for you' are more spoken that sung, they nevertheless fit within the melodic structure of the song entirely. It's the music that does the singing - to borrow from My Morning Jacket
, there is a 'Wordless Chorus' in this song.
The switches between loud and quiet, and even cut time and half time feels, greatly relieve some of the boredom that existed in their first album. Although tracks are still too long in many places (As seen in the second track, and in 'Daddy's in the Doldrums'), the songs generally maintain a solid and quiet energy throughout. This is greatly aided by the drumming, which, almost without exclusion, relies on a constant four on the floor pulse, with the bass drum driving most of the songs. However, the drums are more submerged in the mix here relative to the first album, which makes this repetition more of a subconscious feel (in the first album, the relentless driving could become monotonous).
The true highlight of the album is 'Lightning Blue Eyes', in which the vocal melody is achingly beautiful, culminating in an absolutely stunning hummed final chorus. Other standout tracks include 'Faded Lines', with it's superb guitar riff and chorus, and the melancholic '1,000 seconds'. These few songs have been on repeat on my playlist since I purchased the album. At the risk of sounding fanboyish, they are carefully crafted, catchy, and musically deep. Unfortunately, there remains a fair bit of filler on this album - as always, the Secret Machine's formula is hit or miss. Without these occasional misses, and perhaps some more variety in songwriting formula, this could truly be a fantastic album. As it is, it remains an excellent buy, and well worth a listen.