Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Secret Machines - Ten Silver Drops

8-track; a commonly well-known term in the World of music. Referring to both the old tape cartridges of American popularity during the 60's all the way up to the 80's, and the multitrack systems later expanded upon in size, the term is also (in)famous for being a favourite for track numbers for any band's upcoming album, regardless of its length or overall sound. These eight solitary compositions can make or brake an album - not too many to let boredom come knocking on the door, but neither is it too few to consolidate a sense of being cheated.

Secret Machines, the three-piece Texans now based in New York, have remained in single figures when it comes to track listings. 'Now Here Is Nowhere', their debut releases, demonstrated a keen eye for many a prog-rock envisioning. Here, on their follow-up, the ironically named 'Ten Silver Drops', it's in these eight compositions that we find the band reaching beyond the vision of progressive guitars and heavy-hitting drums, and instead broadening their reach beyond the skies into the surreal floating surroundings of space. And like its later eight-track counterparts - [Radiohead's] The King Of Limbs being a noteworthy example - the structure and sound create something incomprehensible in overall experience.

Opener - and lead single - 'Alone, Jealous & Stoned' twinkles into light, a picking of keys and repeating guitar strums lead into a calm and collective rhythm. Vocalist Brandon Curtis continues his levitated baritone, lyrics fluttering by subsided only by a break-off of spacious chords. But it's the song's second-half that showcases the track's - and later on, the album's - succeeding change in sound. 'I waited for you' Curtis begins, repeating his recognizably tone of address before the song kicks, in somewhat a dramatic means, into overdrive 'I've always waited for you' peeling through the wall of thrusting guitar chords and crashing percussion.

Vocals are indeed among the many highlights of this album's construction. When Curtis is not ushering a message through a mumble-turned-clout of guitar-and-drums, his voice is one of command and passionate leadership, as is detailed in 'All At One (It's Not Important)'. Quite literally, the rolling-on of drums and distant rumble of electric guitars soon flow into a perfected synchronicity with the vocals. So much so on the eight-minute high-light 'Daddy's In The Doldrums' - this time, the drums less in pace but instead paving the way for high-reaching guitar riffs to fill in the widened space left between Curtis' leniently delicate vocals.

'I Hate Pretending' presents a further diverse approach to this expansion of space. The vocals feel more open and vacated from the instrumental mix and only come back into the foray of the composition during its chorus parts. The song does not have the immediate impact as the former-half tracks do so well, but the decisiveness on the performance of guitar and drums shows a sternness for setting a scene in this spacious void the band are gifted at reeling us into - sounds floating around within it as if devoid of weight or intended direction.

Final tracks 'I Want To Know' & '1000 Seconds' withdraw from this dimension of spacious rock in favor of a more lighter-treading earthly-ground progression of piano keys and high-hat percussion hits. If it's not the jittery popping-up of accordion-like sounds on the former that extends the track's diverse use of sound structure, then it's the latter's bellowed piano hits that give a resounding, and much-needed, stance against a track that provides less diversity in progression than the other compositions perform so highly over.

Fans of their debut may throw a cautious concern to later releases after hearing this eight-track album. Some may even see the band's flickering switch from prog-rock to fully expanding space rock here, little more than nostalgic preference. True, this is an album guilty of the unintentionally faithful strong first-half build, but this does not mean the resulting second-half is one of blind weakness and, from our perspective, forgettable content. 'Ten Silver Drops' in actuality, provides a much more wider emotive and liberating depth to its structure. Brandon Curtis' voice feels much more delicate - and delicately vulnerable, as a result - and in direct response to what is going on around him in this, what the band have transposed into our ears, an ever-growing space of consuming guitar riffs and stand-tall percussion. And it's Curtis' vocals, beyond any and all, that remain aloft like some untainted supernova.


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