Now Here Is Nowhere comes a full three years after Secret Machines first made waves in the music scene with their mini-LP September 000. On their full-length debut, Texan three-piece (brothers Brandon and Benjamin Curtis and drummer Josh Garza) work to an epic scale.
Album opener First Wave Intact is a full nine-minute psychedelic prog wig-out about some seeming alien attack, conveying a sense of space that could only come from America. Harvesting the sonic thrills from past generations can be the work of stupid magpies. Harvesting the sonic thrills from past generations can be the work of stupid magpies. Taking Krautrock, British psyche, Led Zeppelin drums, and stadium-rocking dramatics, Secret Machines veer from the cosmic, to glam rock to psychedelic, to sonic shaking in the space of one song, with charm and a sound of their own. As openers go, this is thrilling stuff.
It’s this expansiveness that defines their sound, placing them comfortably alongside bands like the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev. Secret Machines play music that is spatial, ambient, organic, ecstatic, hypnotic and just a touch psychedelic. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
They have been compared to Pink Floyd as well as the aforementioned, Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, but they lack the English pomposity of one, the Kermit-the-Frog on acid vocals of the other or the spider-web spookdust of the latter. What they do share is the sense of the starchild gazing at the heavens, mouth agape by the wonder of all. Not that for a second they won’t smack you around the chops with a beefy wall of sound underpinned by motorific NEU! /Krautrock rhythms on an epic scale. The rhythm section is the fiery furnace, nailing the rhythm in place, and propelling their more starry-eyed orbits with determination and purpose around the edges of spacerock.
Brandon Curtis’s cracked, Neil Young -esque vocals drive the whole thing along layering a wall of vocals to clash deliciously against the fuzz, clatter and squall around them. Sad and Lonely has a cocky swagger that oozes through titanic beats and fuzzed bass slugging it out around glorious harmonies beamed in from another planet. Nowhere Again has an unrelenting rhythm that propels the song with a frantic energy, while guitar one-note squalls loop behind, the whole thing building towards a crescendo that’s fit to go into orbit at any second.
The spooked singalong chorus of The Road Leads Where It’s Led “blowing all the other kids away…with all your charm” calls to mind Columbine, but is dispelled by the sheer, glitter-stomp, of space commandos coming home. Occasionally, as on The Leaves Are Gone, and The Pharoah’s Daughter they get too blissed-out, and drift aimlessly without the familiar driving beat, so that the songs end before anything has actually happened.
When they do get it right as on the spaciously beautiful You Are Chains it takes a full three minutes to get started. It is a sound dense with volumes and textures, rich and rewarding, and worth a listen. Finishing on another epic title track Now Here Is Nowhere it is a fitting conclusion to one hell of a journey, cheekily reprising Nowhere Again in extended freakout and drifting out on a wave of phased harmony echoing off into space.
Now Here Is Nowhere repays renewed listens as subtle melodies reveal themselves through the onslaught of riffing and banks of effects, in much the same way that fellow space cadets Spiritualized often achieve, although this time Secret Machines seem too beefy to bother with drugs. This is music to travel and be transported by. Just don’t ask the destination, you may be surprised.