Big Red Machine
Big Red Machine


3.2
good

Review

by Rowan5215 STAFF
September 7th, 2018 | 61 replies


Release Date: 2018 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Fucking up your classic.

Big Red Machine begins promisingly. Aaron Dessner's electronics are simple, but they stutter enough to land on the Pitchfork-approved glitchy side of James Blakecore, and Vernon's vocal line is an easy winner which humbly catches the listener's attention - "I will lay, laid open". Why he then decided a Bob Dylan impersonation was appropriate for the chorus and second verse of the song is anyone's guess – the effect is closer to Adam Granduciel singing on a Sleep Well Beast song, which really, just one indie darling too fucking far – but it's not hard to see why "Deep Green" was earmarked as an opener. It announces itself, and by extension the album, with an understated grace and simplicity. Then "Gratitude" follows and does exactly the same thing, like down to the electronic pattern and understated vocal intro, ten times better. We're not five minutes into Big Red Machine before it undercuts itself with the placement of a single. At the least this is an honest way of putting your weaknesses right upfront for the audience to see, because the flow of this album is ridiculous and frustrating, constantly figure-eighting itself by grouping similar songs back-to-back and doing all it can to remind you of how good the EP tracks are, to the detriment of literally everything else.

It's a record clearly constructed around the four pre-released tracks, a slightly janky house on top of rock-solid foundations. In what will become a familiar move, these clear highlights either interrupt or are interrupted by the album around them. The digital gospel "Hymnostic" and clear album-topper "Forest Green" make a tranquil mid-album stopgap to die for, but the former is such an obvious closer that throwing it out halfway through is equivalent to wasting it. The wonderful "Gratitude" is muted by the almost identical track before it and quickly drowned out by the two most bangin' bangers, "Lyla" and Yeezus-lite "Air Stryp", which awkwardly fade into the bruised optimism of "Hymnostic". Of the newer tracks, "I Won't Run From It" presents a lovely excursion into acoustics that sings with bare traces For Emma, Forever Ago, while "People Lullaby" edges upon realising the ambient lovestruck atmosphere that the album is clearly gunning for. These two songs make a case for an album which could have stood as a separate entity, diverse yet cohesive, with no songs jutting out of it at strange angles like some modern art piece.

Obviously, this is not how I wanted or expected to feel about the Big Red Machine album. The words I used to describe those first four songs ran along a pretty clear theme - "minimalist", "meditative", "subtlety" - fancy ways of saying that EP was a relaxed, beautiful 20 minutes inside Justin Vernon's musical topography. One song here takes the repetition of meditation to the extreme, and it works as a perfect summation of the album's strengths and weaknesses. The production of "OMDB" is lovely, bringing the best out of Dessner's clicks and clatters and the lush acoustic guitar that erupts halfway through. By the same token we can hear Vernon's voice in vivid detail, as he alights on a vocal melody which is intriguing for two minutes, okay for another two and actively grating for the final three. It's hard not to think back to how "Forest Green" changes melodic tack halfway through to keep things fresh, or "Lyla"'s stunning left turn into an instrumental coda, or 22, A Million's brutally economic runtime. If that album was an exercise in marrying tight songcraft to expansive soundscapes, packing hours of ideas into a fleet 34 minutes, Big Red Machine is the opposite: songs begin on an idea and vamp on it long past the point of no return, stretching an EP's worth of brilliant moments into an album. I'm resisting the obvious urge to go with a "well they fucked this up" line in conclusion – future negative reviewers, go crazy – but Big Red Machine is an exercise in expectation and follow-through, and in how throwing a bunch of good ideas at a song doesn’t make a good song, nor a bunch of great tracks onto vinyl wax a great album.



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user ratings (59)
Chart.
3.6
great
other reviews of this album
neekafat (4.5)
More time....



Comments:Add a Comment 
Gyromania
September 7th 2018


25798 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Yeah this is closer to how I feel

neekafat
September 7th 2018


12137 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

dammit, great review

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
September 7th 2018


40581 Comments

Album Rating: 3.2

really wanted to love this but :-(



neek yours was a great read

Digging: Alkaline Trio - Is This Thing Cursed?

FreddieDelaney31
September 7th 2018


4607 Comments


Counterpoint: Deep Green was so bad that I still haven't listened to the rest yet despite being a religious Vernon and Dessner fan

Digging: Brockhampton - Iridescence

Lucid
September 7th 2018


9997 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

3 - 3.5, quite inconsequential overall. can't understand anyone rating this over 22 a million. nice write-up

neekafat
September 7th 2018


12137 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This is far more organic and engrossing than 22, a Million to me. That one was a bit cold and off-putting to me

And thanks row-bro, glad you dug it (:

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
September 7th 2018


40581 Comments

Album Rating: 3.2

@Freddie I would at least listen to People Lullaby and I Won't Run, it's not a great album but it's not a net loss or anything



the songwriting on 22 wins out easily, I mean even the longer songs like Stafford or circle are very notably tighter and better composed than the ones on here

neekafat
September 7th 2018


12137 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

*sighs audibly*

Clumseee
September 7th 2018


1110 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is a really great review.

Skoop
September 7th 2018


2045 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I enjoy this for the most part but man I wish Vernon would take it easy with the vocal manipulations. I felt like it served the sort of stream of consciousness niche that 22 embodied but here so many of the compositions are quite meticulous and precise and yet Vernon still sounds as if he's gargling into a vocoder half the time.

butcherboy
Contributing Reviewer
September 7th 2018


8633 Comments


The T-pain of indie folk feat. The National..




sign me up?

Digging: Mark Stewart And The Maffia - Learning To Cope With Cowardice

Spec
September 7th 2018


35502 Comments


THATS GOTTA BE KANE

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
September 7th 2018


17706 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Really good review Row.



22, A Million is better but I really enjoyed this too. I haven't heard the EP, is there anything on there that isn't on this?

Digging: Toby Driver - They Are the Shield

neekafat
September 7th 2018


12137 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

nope haha hence a lot of the frustration this is getting

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
September 7th 2018


17706 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Why would that cause frustration? I'd be more annoyed if there were two places to have to hear everything, but it's all on this album. Keeps things simple.

neekafat
September 7th 2018


12137 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

A lot of us spent a lot of time with the EP and a lot of the best songs are from that release, so now (it seems like) most people wish it just ended at that

I don't get it

TalonsOfFire
Staff Reviewer
September 7th 2018


17706 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Yea if you look at it in the reverse, take the four best songs from any album you like and imagine if that was released as an EP first, then the whole album dropped a few months - to a year later. It's just perspective, there's no real reason to be frustrated. At the end of the day there's a whole album to enjoy now with seven more new songs, and they're all good or excellent.

Lucid
September 7th 2018


9997 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

It wasn't even an EP, they just released four songs from the album early. If you listen to four songs from an album before release of course that will taint your initial experience.

neekafat
September 7th 2018


12137 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I just hope this ends up growing on people once they get used to the new songs

Lucman
September 7th 2018


901 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Awesome rev as always Row. Mirrors my thoughts as well. I think it's better than 22 but I can't vibe with the vocal effects.

Digging: Matthew Perryman Jones - The Waking Hours



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