The Secret Machines, Now Here is Nowhere

Crunching and pulsing with some sort of covert messages from a cold, dead star, The Secret Machines are back. What they wrought forth on their 2000 debut EP, September 000, would give anyone a difficult reputation to outshine. The band, once prone to extended psychedelic jams—the best you could ever hope for, however—meet their first major-label LP, Now Here It’s Nowhere, with a more concise, focused style in mind. A testament to this is that they can create a concise and focused opening track that’s almost 10 minutes long.

‘First Wave Intact’

Slowly seeping in…then it HITS and HITS and HITS, with a steady drum punch, a distorted, staccato guitar laying an even riff in the undercurrents of the song. This has the sheer edge of the Secret Machines of yore, but harder, tougher in its approach, until… the melody twists higher and higher, never truly plateauing, giving room for the drums to kick in even harder, leaving nothing in their wake, then reeling the song back again with an increased tempo, and continuing into something that’s nothing short of a total rock anthem. Ten minutes later, you’re definitely someplace else, but not sure quite where. Absolutely transporting.

‘Sad and Lonely’

A thumping, snappy pop-oriented rhythm. Anyone who’s seen them in the past year or so will know this one immediately, with its squeaking, grinding wayward organ that offsets the mood, sliding everything into a dirty blues change-up, then back into that lovely, lovely pop melody. This song is totally infectious. Bass and wah-guitar recall the very best moments of that modern Charlatans-kind of soul. Is this some kind of hit single or something? I mean, I’ll believe it and I’m okay with that. Dead-right vocal lines punctuate every beat.
And it feels like those around want you to die
Well sometimes you feel like just crying
You’re still in love with me and you don’t know why…

‘The Leaves Are Gone’

Humming ambience, astoundingly delightful and precious. A simple, lazy tune with plucked somethings. This is magnificent and subtle, a total change of pace to the album thus far, and a brief respite from the distorted everything of before. Not touching upon any kind of expected melancholy, instead having every bit of the grace of an intensely beautiful, psychedelic afternoon.

‘Nowhere Again’

The band roars back again, with a thud-thud-thud of the drum and a tight, intent guitar, vocals lower and more direct now. Very interesting use of swoop-up background vocals, having the effect of really lifting the song a step at a time. Truly different. Each progressive movement sends the song further and further into the stratosphere. There’s a huge sense of control/loss of control that this song does a remarkable job of riding in devastating fashion.

‘The Road Leads Where It’s Lead’

Drills? What? Everything’s turning in a new direction all of a sudden, and this time we’re heading straight into an intricate, dance-y, techno-ish tune with a beat that I imagine people are going to be able to do some serious rug-cutting to. And dance-y like the Happy Mondays, not the Rapture. Still, remixes ahoy! This is awesome, no doubt about it.

But it’s not really all that much different in tone than the rest of the album, it’s simply got a feel to it that’s all so much more up—the vocals, the guitar lines, the drums, the pounding organ, rollicking together in precision technique. ‘Blowing all the other kids away… With all your charm…’ No arguments here.

‘Pharaoh’s Daughter’

As September 000 had its Pink Floyd-esque track—the chilling ‘It’s a Bad Wind That Don’t Blow Somebody Some Good,’ here we’ve got its admirable descendant, except with a more Dark Side way about it than the Ummagumma. Jazzy build-up, slappy drums, in an altogether mysterious cavern. Lovely backup vocals and guitar lead-outs trickle about its rafters. Mesmerizing, even if it deserves the Floyd comparisons.

‘You Are Chains’

Synthesized piano delay and reverberation. A simple melody opens the track, with layers upon layers of tiny noise being added more subtly and faster than noticeable—untrackable even after many, many listens. The band seems to be relishing their own feedback, soaking in all this brilliant lushness. The vocals, plaintive, float in over the top of it all with their earth-bound imagery.
You are chains when you’re chained
With a chain with an iron ring
Bound to a rock on which you stand
So large, you can’t see from its surface
Covered in atmosphere and dust
Blinded by wonder and lust
And you never noticed your chains
(And then that section almost seems to stop, restarting imperceptibly, churning into a musical ‘breath,’ a cliffhanger; the drums punch in, the melody develops further, and a full minute later everything ties together, sending us, musically, vocally, and lyrically into outer space.)
Well neither had I
An instant classic. An album stand-out. A year stand-out.

‘Light’s On’

More rhythmic, stomping, with an immediacy to it all. A frantic melody pierces straight into brilliant My Bloody Valentine-ish overdubbed ‘oohs-oohs,’ enjoining the chorus. Chiming piano enters from stage right, disrupting the song in a really beautiful way. The band is tearing through everything, setting us up for whatever’s next…

‘Now Here Is Nowhere’

Dual lead vocals singing back and forth to each other, then together, in front of morphing, swaying synthesizers and a throbbing organ, and here all at once the album makes its final turn, coming full circle to a new, higher level of distortion, taking everything they’ve shown us so far and pushing it that extra little bit, every little second. The dual vocals continue through, the volume increases, the pace quickens, and the song turns fast and sharp into unexpected corners, then faster and sharper, and switches back around, with us desperately trying to stay intact, trying to keep up. It finally has a look back and waits for us, patiently, tremelo-ing, panning, shifting.

The Secret Machines are back, ladies and gentlemen. And they’ve come for us; the mothership is landing in the distance, and this is the proof.

Fade out.


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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