One of the greatest creative challenges is finding one’s own voice within the chaotic babble of influences that inhabit every artist’s head. Failure to do so can develop a sound best defined by a vague, narrow musical term (i.e. punk, emo, the particularly vapid alternative), or, worse still, create a cover band in denial.
While their predecessors do occasionally bleed through on Now Here Is Nowhere, The Secret Machines play some damn fine rock in an age where it’s often no more than one component within a band’s stew of muses. There is a definite 60’s sound buried within the psychedelic guitars squealing throughout this album, and Pink Floyd boldly materializes on several tracks, especially the dream-like “Pharaoh’s Daughter.” But most of the songs are rushing anthems like “Nowhere Again” or “The Road Leads Where It’s Led,” driven by distorted or spacey baselines and vocalist Ben Curtis’ nasally wails.
Despite the sense of confusion and loss lacing most of the lyrics, Now Here is an outwardly uplifting album. On “Nowhere Again,” Curtis says “Maybe the rain will stop following me / dripping the colors / running the daylight / over the cloudburst / hoping it don’t burst / right before my eyes / erased, our lives erased.” Still, it’s probably the most addictive song on the album, and will turn your neck to jelly while bobbing along to it’s pulsing drumbeats and the galloping energy that will keep your blood racing.
Much of the album feels like a race, actually, with songs frantically following one another, slowing down only for the melancholy acoustic ballad “The Leaves Are Gone,” the mellow “You Are Chains,” and the aforementioned acid-trip, “Pharaoh’s Daughter.”
On “Pharaoh’s Daughter,” Curtis’ voice carries a stream of colorful images that characterizes the lyrical style of the Machines’: beautiful but cryptic. “The younger ones looked frightened / left unguarded by the clouds / while sons of fire with trembling hands / burned heroes to the ground,” sings Curtis, bringing to mind The Neutral Milk Hotel’s similar, if more vivid, verbal weavings.
While they might not be producing watermark albums like those that inspired them, Secret Machines are doing more than modern covers of old classics. Their sound may feel familiar, but they’re definitely blazing their own trail off of the well-worn paths of their musical forefathers.
Neutral Milk Hotel — In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Pink Floyd — The Dark Side of the Moon
Roxy Music— Country Life