By and large, it probably isn’t the year’s most anticipated album. But for the select savvy group of us who went all pie-eyed when the Secret Machines debuted Now Here is Nowhere in 2004, the New York-by-way-of-Dallas’ trio’s sophomore disc is cause for a big, red circle on the ol’ music calendar. It’s also cause for celebration: the Machines have broadened their own horizons, cleaned up a few of their messier habits, and seem more turbocharged than ever. Can we get these guys to tour more, please?
The first thing Ten Silver Drops does is cement the case that pigeonholes and prog/Floyd/Zep labels, so overused when describing “Nowhere,” are even more useless here than they were before. Many of those labels might still be fashionable for lazy listeners, but the Machines–singer/keyboardist/bassist Brandon Curtis, his guitar-slinging brother Benjamin, and drummer Josh Garza–have also learned how to self-edit, and continue to turn raw emotion into a jangly melody.
It helps, of course, that Ten Silver Drops has a bit of a theme: the sting of loss, rejection and relationship destruction. As Brendan Curtis puts in on the band’s Web site, before and during the making of the new album “we experienced a deconstruction of our lives.” Such melodramatics might hamper creativity, but the Secret Machines more than most recent bands know how to turn those melodramatics and histrionics into art.
“Alone, Jealous and Stoned,” whose title only hints at the trodden narratives within, reaffirms the band has ancient roots gravity and blues buried somewhere in its trick bag. “1,000 Seconds,” which closes the disc, showcases Garza’s typically harrowing drums and boasts a vocal turn from Curtis that’s ostensibly sweet and wistful but quickly turns downright bloodcurdling. There are angry addresses (“How could you forgive and just forget?)” in “All at Once,” a cynicism in the bold, philosophical pronouncements of “I Hate Pretending” that recalls Nick Cave and cathartic rockers that make no apologies for extroverted guitar (“Lightning Blue Eyes”). “Faded Lines” and “I Want to Know” (which features, curiously, the Band’s Garth Hudson on accordion) are fine works of melodic craftsmanship. The Machines, since Nowhere, have tightened things up all-around and cut down on both the ethereality and a tendency toward psychedelic fuzz-bombs. The depressing “Know,” hints at a folkier direction for the Machines; it’s a worthy companion to their protracted take on Dylan’s “Girl of the North Country,” the most memorable effort from last year’s The Road Leads Where Its Led EP.
Ten Silver Drops is a leaner effort than Nowhere, with an evidence of staying power, which none of us Machines freaks ever doubted. More importantly, Ten Silver Dropsis just frayed enough to suggest the trio is still just warming up, and their magnum opus may still await.