Review Summary: Travis Stever’s sophomore album Our Machine is an excellent, varied, original sounding album that demands your immediate attention.
Our Machine feels a lot like coming home. The second album from Travis Stever’s side project Davenport Cabinet blends an impressive mix of old school rock’n’roll, folk and a bit of electronic tweakery. The result is a lush album filled to the brim with layered guitars, grooving bass and down-to-earth vocals. Many Coheed and Cambria fans may be wary of charting into the territory of Davenport Cabinet. Perhaps you have accepted Coheed frontman Claudio Sanchez’s side project, The Prize Fighter Inferno, as the only acceptable alternate to the prog rockers’ universe. Maybe side projects leave a bad taste in your mouth. Maybe you don’t like trying new things. Whatever your qualms, fear not. I will guide you. Our Machine is very different from Coheed and Cambria - although those influences are never far off - and that is a good thing.
I first listened to the album when it was streaming free via SoundCloud, mostly out of curiosity. I pushed play rather cynically, expecting to sample a few songs and then dismiss it as another stab at the old side project, soon to be forgotten. After hearing the first light, acoustically tickling intro track Night Climb followed by the groovy Deterioration Road, I decided to let the rest of the album finish. Then I hit play again. Then I bought the album immediately upon release. Stever delivered, and I didn’t even know I had ordered.
Travis Stever (accompanied by his cousin Tyler Klose and a handful of other family members and friends) has created a fascinating work of art. For those of you, like myself, that felt his first venture into the side project world was inconsistent and mediocre at best, check your previous notions at the door and leave them there. Our Machine is wildly enjoyable from top to bottom and the eclectic mix of folk/acoustic rock and bluesy riffing creates a texture that is exciting and never feels dull or uninspired. Take it from a guy who is disinclined to reach for the Folk/Indie section of the music library: Travis Stever treads these waters masterfully.
The musicianship is top notch, and that’s about as big of an understatement as I can give. The guitar layers are soulful and interesting and it’s clear Stever and Company paid a lot of attention to the tone of their guitars, giving each of the album’s songs exactly what they need when they need them. Stripped of the sci-fi saga that Coheed can be burdened with, the lyrics and tone of the album are much lighter and wider appealing than his prog-rock dark side. The lyrics are relatable, never cheesy or pretentious and get the job done. Travis’s voice is grounded and earthly, melodic and gentle, always fitting the song well. The drums and bass do an equally impressive job of providing swelling grooves and quality beats. The end result is a smooth, entertaining experience that rewards you for listening critically while also remaining appealing for casual listening. You’ll often find that you’re singing along under your breath and tapping your feet helplessly to the grooves and rhythms of the album.
While there are very few “filler” tracks on the album (“New Saviour” comes to mind) there are a myriad of outstanding tracks ranging from intense to discrete. “Black Dirt Burden” stands out as one of the album’s highlights, serving up plenty of crying wah-wah solos and pounding rhythm sections that keep the song unpredictable and engaging the entire time. This is followed immediately by a much quieter, folky acoustic song, “Drown it All” that, despite its stark contrast to the previous track, feels right at home amidst the track listing. It manages to evoke a feeling of nostalgia and coziness that warms you from the inside immediately after a song that had you banging your head. It could have been easy for such a mix of sounds and feelings to come across as clunky and disjointed, but Our Machine is crafted superbly. Stever and Co. managed to create a lush album where every song has a place and the track list moves smoothly and never drags. While it is clear that certain songs are indeed better than others and I wish there were one or two more songs that matched the intensity of “Black Dirt Burden” or “These Bodies”, the tracklist favorite could very well be different for each listener. The variety of the album ensures there’s something for everyone, and upon repeated listens even the songs you didn’t pay attention to initially become favorites in time.
It’s best not to look at Our Machine as a side project. This album is strong and stands steadily on its own. Fans of Coheed and Cambria owe it to themselves to buy this album and anyone who is a fan of original, inspiring music should as well. I strongly recommend purchasing the bonus tracks as well, adding four more songs that fit comfortably on the tail end of the album, making the entire album just under one jam-packed hour. Like the sign of any good album, Our Machine gets better with each spin and I would behoove you to give it numerous careful listens. I said at the beginning that Our Machine feels like coming home, an album I can always listen to and enjoy no matter what my mood or attitude is. If that isn’t the mark of mastery, I don’t know what is.