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Listening

On the Secret Machines’ New Album

Since their 2002 debut EP Brooklyn-via-outer space-via-Texas rock trio the Secret Machines have led a charmed life. The group’s rise has been meteoric: rescued from seedy Williamsburg loft parties, knighted by Warner Bros., and anointed in Hedi Slimane suits, the Secret Machines appear in every aspect to be here for good. Which would be great news for all, if only they could figure out whom they wanted to be. Because with Ten Silver Drops, they offer few reminders of 2004’s excellent Now Here Is Nowhere. Not that they should be frozen to the sparse psychedelic style they purveyed, but here they seem to be mining something else, and it’s from the catalog of another well-known three-piece—the Outfield.

Before things get too sunny and mild, a rather incongruous figure—anger—shows up front and center on the lead-off track “Alone, Jealous & Stoned,” which will likely later be known as “(This Is the) Love Song in a Nicolas Cage Movie.” Everywhere, the lyrics seethe with something about someone who done somebody wrong, though any relevant details are unstated, leaving you with little else to do but to deal with it. Rare are the times that music has been able to transport one to the emotional place of being stuck in a car with a bickering couple. But here it is.

If the Secret Machines can be counted on for anything, it’s epic proportions. So it’s a surprise when, clocking in at almost eight and a half minutes, “Daddy’s in the Doldrums” registers just after “buttery spread” and “communism” as otherwise good ideas that, for one reason or another, never quite coalesce. It never clicks, it never takes off, and I’m guessing because it, of all the album tracks, most resembles their earlier work. Taking this into account, Ten Silver Drops is less a loss of direction and more a transition. The Secret Machines are busy searching for a new sound, in the midst of vast experiments. So here, when they reach into their old bag of tricks, it sounds as if they’re not quite buying it either.

It’s on the aptly titled “I Hate Pretending” that they really do make the great leap forward, anchoring the song with an impossibly thick synthesizer and sending rollercoaster guitar leads atop it. It’s unwavering, deadly intense, one of the most exciting songs they’ve ever recorded—please let it be an indication of what’s to come.

biopic

Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack

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