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The Secret Machines - Now Here is Nowhere

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Artist: The Secret Machines

Album: Now Here is Nowhere

Label: Reprise

Review date: May. 10, 2004

Secret Machines kick open the doors of Now Here is Nowhere onto a vista so epic and vast, it takes nine minutes to pan across. The drums march a glam army to battle, all sabers and rayguns, the bassline thundering out of heavy Germanic skies. Occasionally a jet tears across, on its way to firebomb someplace previously unrocked. Brandon Curtis narrates some urgent race to the prize, pitting ‘them’ against ‘us’ and announcing the stakes at hand: “Leaves from modern trees / rest on walls like these,” he offers, just before the assault gives its only brief pause. He proclaims that “the rest is theft,” and the onslaught resumes to punctuate his point. Secret Machines proceed to scale those inscrutable massive symbolic walls with single-minded tenacity.

This first track “First Wave Intact” lifts Now Here is Nowhere to an incredible early climax, and by doing so it firmly checks prior expectations about this band. The build-and-release movements of their September 000 EP – lithe yet muscular, sporadically lyrical – played paradoxically as spacious and concise. It had the confidence and ambition of classic rock, but it had also taken a lesson or two about spatial dynamics from the new school of instrumental rock. September 000 darted in and out of shadows, revealing a spangle of colors blended together with uncommonly delicate sleight. This album, on the other hand, is a bolt of searing light. The playful pop-stomping and expansive instrumental builds of their debut are absent here. Their Pink Floyd influence is almost entirely obscured by two other faces of the heavy ’70s die – Zeppelin mythicism and Krautrock rhythmic exploration— yet somehow it also sounds utterly of-the-moment. Guitar heroics both grand and distanced; a glam desire suited up within unbreakable steel grooves.

In gaining power and speed, Secret Machines seem to have lost a sense of pace. Now Here is Nowhere rocks hard, but compared to the EP it contains half the ideas in twice the running time. A few of those ideas aren’t even good ones. They’re lyrically extravagant and a bit lazy simultaneously, like on “Pharoah’s Daughter,” in which Curtis refers to the “knife edge of time” and goes about “building caskets/for boys in leather jackets.” Lines like that can either cut or grate, and by this time in the album the spell has worn off. They’re no longer rock warriors scaling those grand walls—they’re just kids smoking pot in a garage while watching The Wall.

Secret Machines sip from the same chalice of excess as the Darkness, only that band spits it right back out in your face. This one toasts to a time, now coming on thirty years gone, when rock was a mighty, mysterious juggerknaut, “covered in atmosphere dust/blinded by wonder and lust.” That’s a line from “You Are Chains,” which is one of the only moments on the album that successfully shifts mood. A piano ballad, equal parts Queen and Eno, it builds and crests with confidence and grace, a good song begging for a great album. But then they jump back into the juggernaut’s rut, dug this time by chuggy barreling blitzgroove, and there the record runs one more lap before expiring. No mystery lingers.

By Greg Bloom

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