The Secret Machines - Ten Silver Drops
So I'll get this off my chest first: I like prog-rock. There... I've said it. I was raised on a diet of Yes, Pink Floyd and Asia. These were the behemoths of the late 70's music scene, where how you played was probably more important than what you played, and were rightly destroyed by the punk movement. I only mention this as The Secret Machines seem to have been thrown into the new group of prog-rock inspired bands led by The Mars Volta. Certainly elements of their music nod heavily in that direction, but this latest album is their most focused body of work yet and has more in common with stadium rockers than prog rockers.
Things begin slowly though, opener Alone, Jealous and Stoned is a slow burner of a blues rocker, building to a finale that leaves you a little disappointed. It promises much but delivers little, dealing with the standard rock clichés of being left alone waiting for the phone to ring and the love of your life to be on the other end. So far, so very uninspiring. However, things improve dramatically from here. On first listening to this album I'm reminded of the phrase used to describe some bands in the 80's; "Big Sound" - the production and feel of these songs are truly epic, pitched somewhere between post-Waters Floyd and Led Zeppelin circa Physical Graffiti. There are plenty of guitars, keyboards are great huge drums that dominate proceedings, Brandon Curtis' voice has never been the strongest, but it floats across this, sometimes being drowned out by the Wall of Sound emitting from your speakers.
The true highlights of this album are the latest single Lightning Blue Eyes and Faded Lines both from opposite ends of the Secret Machines songwriting spectrum. Lightning Blues Eyes is as perfect slice of pop-rock as you're going to hear this year, all chirping guitars and a memorable, almost sing-a-long style chorus. Meanwhile Faded Lines is exactly the reason these guys get labeled as "prog-rock"; layered guitars and vocals over a pounding drum beat that I've played so loud I'm worried I've damaged my hearing - it deserves to be heard as loud as you can possibly bare - it's an exhilarating listen. This is augmented by the fact that it's all over so quickly, the album is merely 8 songs and 45 minutes long (something truly against the nature of prog-rock!).
If the Secret Machines continue their musical development in this manner they really are going to do something special soon. In the meantime they'll have to be content with creating one of the great indie-rock albums of 2006.