One of the learned responses that friends would give after having `uncool’ clothes ridiculed is “function before fashion.” The two ideas seemed they would never go hand in hand. But an Australian collective led by Matt Nicholson manages to combine the two in their new album, The Secret Miracle Fountain. The album is the result of three and a half years’ work in over 18 different locations around the world with 29 different featured musicians. If it sounds expansive and intricate, you’re right, it is. With a bevy of multi-layered tracks, ambient noise, natural sounds and a combination of different rock styles, The Secret Miracle Fountain is a release unlike any other that will stun, astound and yes, possibly even bring you some much needed peace in your life, giving a complete air of truth to the album’s title.
Nicholson and his band of merry musicians traveled from their native Australia to England, Japan, the United States, Fiji, India and Egypt to put together this incredible piece of music that, thankfully, seems to go on forever (72 minutes to be more exact). The result is what you might get if you threw Sigur Rós, Architecture in Helsinki, Broken Social Scene, Animal Collective and Espers into a room with every instrument and a sound library at their disposal. Songs on The Secret Miracle Fountain employ the use of modern rock instrumentation, classical strings and horns, improv jazz styles, electronic sampling and turntable technique…I think you get the picture. Matt Nicholson puts everything but the kitchen sink (and even then I wouldn’t be surprised if someone didn’t use one as an instrument) into this album. It is not quite an ambient record, or a world music mélange, or even an indie rock record, but it IS all of these things in one and much more.
“Beloved, Lost to Begin With,” with lyrics based on a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, starts with a crackling fire and proceeds like an Animal Collective in Iceland manner. “The Red Hook Overview” mixes a Radiohead vibe with My Bloody Valentine (and Nicholson even makes a vocal reference when he sings, “Paging Dr. Freud would you come down here right away! There’s a room full of artists, all loveless and fey”). Just before that line is dropped, the guitars and bass create a sonic backdrop that nearly takes center stage just like they do in Kevin Shields’ compositions. Instrumental compositions such as “Prayer in Tonal Forest,” “Shards,” “Mad Light Abviating Things” (two different versions), and “New Music for Bowed Animals” are alternately so dense and complex that you can hear something new with every listen or so devastatingly simple and free flowing that you can lose yourself in its majesty.
“Tiger Cub Samurai” and “Unshaken (Positively Implacable)” are examples of what I love about Function. The noise of children, digital alarm sounds faintly in the background, enigmatic and poetic lyrics, along with piano and guitar drones all set the scene in these two fantastic pieces. In the latter song, a child says, “How are you? Doing good?” After listening to The Secret Miracle Fountain I can safely answer this grammatically incorrect question with a resounding yes. Matt Nicholson has made a new fan out of this listener, and after a whopping five spins of this record, I’m not close to being done with it yet.