Review Summary: A humble reminder that dreams are available in audio.
Dreams never cease to mystify me. They come in all shapes and sizes, and no two dreams are exactly alike. A dream can be murky or it can be vivid. It can be realistic or completely fantastical. It can have a clear meaning or be utter nonsense. It can be beautiful or it can be nightmarish. Few albums in recent memory encapsulate the essence of a dream better than Dreams of the Divine Machine
by The Phonies.
Woven throughout the album's five songs is a story, chronicling the life of a child born half-human, half-machine. Each track represents a different event in the child's life, from his conception leading up to his death. Part of the album's beauty is the way this story is told. The events are never outright stated, but are instead hinted at by their respective song titles. Rather than show the events unfold, the music places the listener into the role of the child. This allows to the listener to experience the emotions the child is feeling during each event. "Mother's Womb," for instance, is a soft number highlighted by a gorgeous melody. It gives the listener a comforting feeling of sheer calmness, akin to what one might experience as they drift off into sleep. On the darker side of things is "Man Kills Machine to Preserve Humanity." The song describes society's rejection of the child, eventually culminating in his murder. As such, the music conveys a sense of both overwhelming loneliness and violent rage. The music drifts back and forth from a melancholy piano melody to a terrifying onslaught of explosive drumbeats to demonstrate intense anger. Every track is entirely different from one another, yet certain motifs often carry over from one song to the next. Due to its linear progression, this truly an album that begs to heard in one sitting.
Its concept aside, what makes Dreams of the Divine Machine
such a fascinating listen is its atmosphere, achieved by the album's unique blend of ambient and industrial music. Soft, quiet ambiance and harsh industrial grinding are juxtaposed expertly, making even the lightest melody seem unsettling. Both elements are used in their own capacity, with some songs being primarily ambient-based, others having a more industrial focus, and some perfectly balancing both elements. Although "industrial ambient" music is no new concept, never before have the two elements been utilized so cohesively. The album's opener rudely awakens the listener, with the following track lulling him or her to sleep. From then on, the album flawlessly switches its tone to convey different emotions. "Flesh Feels Real," the third track, is the prime example of how one song seamlessly melds into the next. Over the course of four-minutes, the song creates a wondrous soundspace that manages to capture a slew of different emotions. "Flesh Feels Real" is based around a perfectly soothing melody, which becomes increasingly somber over the course of the song. While the melody invites the listener to doze off into sleep, it is marred by a wave of unpleasant distortion which serves as an assurance that the listener's dream will be a horrible nightmare. By doing this, the dark tone of the succeeding track is made all the more believable and hard-hitting. While the unprecedented lightheartedness of the closer may take the listener by surprise, it is nonetheless an extremely fitting may to wrap up the album.
More than simply music, Dreams of the Divine Machine
is an artistic vision. Without a doubt, this album was made with a keen attention to detail. Despite the songs sounding somewhat commonplace at times, every note, mechanical squeak, and wave of distortion seems to have a deeper, symbolic meaning behind them. What starts out as a beat may very well transform into breathing. What sounds at first like a distorted bass may turn out to be someone wailing. Moments like these take little effort to spot, yet add an entire layer of intrigue to each track. Another part of the album's vision is its running length. Clocking in at a mere fourteen-minutes, its shortness is the only respect in which Dreams of the Divine Machine
falters. Although the album certainly has no shortage of scope, its lack of size prevents it from having the staying power it undeniably deserves. With that being said, however, it is nothing short of remarkable that the band was able to capture so many emotions within its fourteen-minutes.
You wake up after a night of sleep and try to remember the dream you just had. Thinking hard about it, you recall that the dream had some kind of story, yet you cannot seem to piece everything together. Much of it has since escaped your memory; all you can remember are emotions you felt during the dream. You think of the clues you were left as you search for the deeper meaning behind the dream. Realizing you may never have another one like it, you stop and enjoy the dream for what it was: beautiful and one-of-a-kind. Dreams of the Divine Machine
replicates this type of experience with the utmost amount of precision. Point is, when you wake up in the morning, this is a dream worth remembering.