The Secret Machines – Secret Machines (TSM Recordings)

The Secret Machines have been through some changes. Founding member, and brother/guitarist Benjamin Curtis left to pursue the School of Seven Bells project.

This left only workhorse drummer Josh Garza and singer/bassist/keyboardist Brandon Curtis to find their way.

The album’s title, Secret Machines, suggests a band re-defining itself, starting over after a fairly significant shake-up. But the reality is actually a valid, and quite different, alternative.

It finds the band reasserting itself. Re-affirming its roots and its identity, adamantly stating that they are still alive and well, building upon all that came before.

What has been most significantly changed is, obviously, the guitar playing. Rather than casting the guitar aside with Ben Curtis’ departure, they have brought it to the forefront. Curtis’ style was very distinct, always composed of basic simple riffs that almost always grew and ebbed, cycling patiently. As if a force of nature not unlike the sea. On this album, guitar is taken up ably by Phil Karnats. Karnats’ style is quite different, constructing more complex and kinetic riffs (relative to Curtis). Karnats really extends the Machines’ aural palette, blowing open the doors to various effects that make the guitar as much a textural instrument as a leading voice. Finally, he is more aggressive and in your face than the departed Curtis brother. Which is sorely needed, as the drumming and bass work has stepped up to be the most muscular I’ve heard it. Garza’s drumming is as fantastic as ever, if not hitting harder and tighter than before and Brandon Curtis’ bass work provides an excellent and nuanced foundation.

The most encouraging thing about this whole album is that the Secret Machines haven’t lost a step; the album feels like a natural progression from Ten Silver Drops and expands upon everything the Secret Machines do well, while adding in a few new wrinkles to the mix. The most noticeable change is probably how weighty everything feels relative to their back catalog. Where their first LP Now Here is Nowhere, was an excellent cut of post-rock grandiosity, it frequently felt detached and almost too expansive, bordering on the ethereal. Their newest material feels like a more grounded, visceral and connected experience, continuing a trend from Ten Silver Drops towards tighter and more focused songs, still taking time to explore post-rock while refining a pop sensibility.

This latest record is the closest the Machines have come to a pop record, with loads of distinct hooks, yet they still manage to intensify that bone-rattling kick-drum boom and bass rumble, a style that is TSM’s signature. The presence of elements of prog and psych that permeated their previous albums are all found here, in much more refined and focused bundles. “Last Believer, Drop Dead” is a perfect example of this, anchored by the TSM’s signature post-rock style of hypnotic, larger-than-life thundering drums and bass, it also features a jarring mid-track bridge and warm vocals a la Ten Silver Drops, displaying all eras of the band’s sounds effectively fused into one.

“Now You’re Gone” is a classic bittersweet pop track, more effectively realized than almost any on Ten Silver Drops, its climax a crushing swirl of wailing, distorted guitar scales.

“Have I Run Out” is a bombed-out ghetto of a track. A dark, minor-key dweller with heavy helpings of burnt-out guitar effects ranging from bewildering psych to approximating noise and drone. This bleak soundscape is peppered by exhilirating gasps of sun and fresh air in the form of brief major key resolutions.

“The Walls are starting to crack” is a truly epic, standout track that gradually descends into a nightmarish drone-scape with immaculate and subtle ratcheting of tension reminiscent of Pink Floyd. After over a minute of aural hell, the track emerges atop a cathartic and gorgeous, chorally-backed apex that could easily be an extra cut from Dream Theater’s dramatic prog opus Scenes from a Memory.

“The Fire is Waiting” is the album’s closing track and longest cut by over 3 minutes. An almost unrelenting, lumbering aural assault, it collapses under the weight of its own gigantic prog-rock riffs. Thankfully, this final stumble doesn’t weigh down an otherwise excellent album. Too much.

My anxiety about the departure of Ben Curtis has been eased and I really can’t wait to see where the Machines take us next. The Machines roll into DC next month. Be sure to stay tuned for our exclusive interview.

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3 Responses to “The Secret Machines – Secret Machines (TSM Recordings)”

  1. Baby81 says:

    I love TSM but I can’t find the link to the track

  2. Alex Mudge says:

    The track was a leak, so the link was taken down.

  3. Nolan says:

    When is this being released?

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