It’s been a long time since the September 000 EP was released in 2002. With such a long time behind them, the Texans turned New Yorkers, Secret Machines, which is the brainchild of Brandon Curtis and Josh Garza, have moved past the quiet and spacey jam sessions, and instead, have added a dose of grandeur to the tripped out mix. Much of this change should be attributed to the addition of new guitarist, Phil Karnats, an old friend of the band, who takes the reigns of the band here, on its new, self-titled record.
With the Secret Machines on the verge of being swallowed by its own over consistency, Secret Machines saves the day with the growth that was needed to keep this band relevant. While Ben Curtis unique style made the band what it is, Karnats seems to take it one step further with his own, more full-bodied sound that carries into the experimental moments.
The first two tracks on the record have a strong resemblance to older works, most notably, the band’s first full length, 2004s Now Here Is Nowhere. Both Atomic Heals and Last Believer, Drop Dead carry that familiar rhythm, but where they differ from the rest of the pack is in the emphasis on lyrics, vocals, and more solid guitar parts. What you have in the end are two opening tracks that are eager to be played on a bigger stage. Both songs signal the return to the style of the first record that had more punch to it than say 2006s Ten Silver Drops. This could also be seen as a slight draw back however as they carry the strong feeling that we have heard this all before, Last Believer being the best example of this. Great songs, just a little predictable. Its on the third track that things begin to shift around and get interesting.
On previous albums, the longer songs have always been a chance to focus on the quiet subtleties, however things have changed as Have I Run Out explores new ways to be loud and still subtle. The spacey moments are there, just with a new creative mind to stretch out the box. The track introduces us to the dark side of the Machines, and is the first on the record to take us into that new territory.
The three-piece also treads into 80s territory on Underneath the Concrete. Karnats’ guitar work add in some Devo flavor to the already exciting hook filled rock song. That’s not all. The Edges influence makes an appearance on the slowed down Now Youre Gone with a guitar solo that would make U2’s axeman proud, and also sees the band dabbling in vocal play with a stylish tans inducing reverse echo effect.
The Walls Are Starting to Crack is one of two mold breaking tracks as they hit us with nearly seven minutes of a creepy Pink Floyd throwback that takes the song to darker places than the band has ever been. It is akin to the weird boat ride in the original Willie Wonka movie, and then you are spit back out with screaming gospel. It is their version of a rock opera in one short song, and quite possibly the best track on the record. I Never Thought To Ask is the second in the mold breaking songs, as it is a haunting acoustic ballad drenched in reverb.
Closing out the album, and keeping with tradition, Curtis, Garza, and Karnats take us deep into their psyche with what seems to be the mandatory 11 minute epic. However, this time around, there’s a little essence of Adam Jones in the heavy and distorted guitars. Vocals are only present in the beginning of the track as they introduce you to the rest of the Floyd-goth-psychedlia they are capable of. The song is an auditory journey down the rabbit hole, only this time the rabbit leaves you there.
After three albums and four EPs, the guys from Dallas have found their niche in music, making them one of the more unique and interesting bands of the new millennium. What the last part of this record shows us is that the band is not stuck in that niche entirely and while there are consistencies in their music, they can travel far outside of the box when given the chance. We see this with any of their tracks above 7 minutes, and for those below that time, well they are the ones that have been most often predictable, for better or worse. The only exception to the rule comes recently on this record, which has us wondering if the Secret Machines are trying to turn a new leaf while going back to their first record for inspiration. It’s always a toss up if a known band will survive the loss of a key member, but by the sounds of things, the guys are doing just fine.