October 07, 2002

Secret Machines "OOO"

I'm starting my review of Secret Machines' debut record, September 000, before actually listening to it. See, I've enjoyed the music made by the B. Curtis boys (UFOFU, Captain Audio, plus work with Chao! and Tripping Daisy), and I'm using my knowledge of their past in order to determine what this will actually sound like. Yes, I'm aware that I'm judging a book by its cover here, but I don't care, because these guys are uber-talented, and you can only expect the unexpected from them.

Okay, there's a circle on the cover. The packaging is at a bare minimum here. A green circle. A sticker that says "Secret Machines." Bare minimum listing of song titles on the back. No notes on the inside cover, but they're written blue on blue on the CD. Ummm......I'm excpecting something either radically simple here or radically evil. Maybe a screaming, harder version of UFOFU? Or maybe something insane like the Locust or Black Dice. I'm not trusting the simple artwork here.

Okay, yeah. There's nothing here that doesn't let you know that these guys used to be Captain Audio. "Marconi's Radio" picks up quite well where Luxury OR whether it is better to be loved than feared left off. It starts off with a simple, minimalistic keyboard melody, and it builds and builds and then it...turns..into....Pink Floyd, circa 1977. Imagine a mix of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" with "Pigs On the Wing" and you're not really that far from Secret Machines. Roger Waters must be proud, and I gotta give Secret Machines TOTAL credit for being able to pull off the stunt of making non-ironic Pink Floyd music.To cop from the most bombastic, melodramatic rock band of not only the 1970s but possibly of all time, and to do so without sounding derivitive, retro, or coked-up in the studio is a real accomplishment!

I think that's due in large part to the fact that Secret Machines aren't staying still long enough for any kind of tag to be penned to them. In fact, the song you start ain't the one you finish. Throughout September 000, you'll get the notion that something went wrong during programming, because ideas that flowed from the end of a song into the next one will often change just as rapidly, into another lovely number or musical idea. Hell, if they had programmed the record as one continually-flowing album (ala Prince's classic Lovesexy or Tripping Daisy's The Tops of Our Heads) then there's no doubt that September 000 would be one helluva example of a genre I like to call "interesting rock." "Interesting rock" is music that does not define or confine itself to any one genre, and simply flows around and around and is, well...interesting! Don't get me wrong; the album's not bad like it is, but I just felt that since these ideas flow back and forth without regards to convention, then inserting breaks--even ones that you don't notice--simply restrain the music's full wingspan.

That's a minor quibble, though. Underneath the art, the experimentation, and the weirdness, are some great--hell, make that BEAUTIFUL--songs, and my only complaint about the music would be that because ideas flow so freely, some really great ideas are briefly visited and tossed around, and I'd like to hear them more developed! I'm particularly fond of "Still See You," a little love song with acoustic guitars and some weird sonic backing and painfully loving singing that turns into a fast-paced rock song the minute the singer (sorry, don't know who's who) opens his mouth, but it lasts only briefly, and then it fades into the next sonic idea.

I was kinda wrong about what the music would sound like, but I was also right in that the music is, in essence, rather simple, peaceful, and, dare I say it, utterly beautiful. So, welcome to the world, Secret Machines. You've made a great record here, which isn't a surprise, and it's been a real pleasure. Here's to the future of Secret Machines!!!

--Joseph Kyle

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