Instrumental rock isn’t for everybody. While it’s easy for most people to appreciate the instrumentation in rock music, or even listen to a good band with an awful vocalist, it’s much more difficult for many people to make the leap from rock music with vocals to instrumental rock. No matter how interesting it is, rock without vocals is stuck with being an acquired taste. There are select few bands, like Trans Am, who manage to transcend the boundary between the two realms, but even they sing once in a while.
This has been my attitude about instrumental music for a long time. I like jazz and I can appreciate post-rock (or whatever it’s called now), but once you throw in power chords, everything changes. And there lies the problem. Rock music is simple, and when you take away an element, it tends to be somewhat boring. And though this is true of most instrumental rock groups, mathematical or otherwise, there’s at least one band to whom this rule does not apply: Brooklyn’s Turing Machine.
Consisting of members of The Panthers and Pitchblende, Turing Machine have a pedigree in loud-ass rock. So when you take away the vocals, it’s still loud-ass rock. But TM sound less like their other outfits and more along the lines of krautrock heroes Can and Hawkwind and the aforementioned Trans Am. Epic tracks like “Bleach it Black” and “Bitte, Baby, Bitte” take the listener on the proverbial journey, as reverb heavy guitars drone in and out and the bass and drums chug along with a surgeon’s precision. And unlike jazz or post-rock, Turing Machine are a more structured band, leaving much less to improvisation.
Some songs rely less on drones, like the repetitive “Don’t Mind If I Don’t,” a song that’s half motorik groove and half flat-out rawk. “Whodu Wudu” is also a peculiar little tune, encompassing two minutes of slo-mo drums and ultra-distorted bass. But just as soon as you get used to the fuzzy bass weirdness, “Synchronicity III” brings back the druggy, psychedelic vibe, all drones and math bass. “Rock.Paper.Rock.” ends the album in the way the song title would suggest, except for the paper part.
Though I haven’t necessarily changed my mind about instrumental rock being an acquired taste, Turing Machine has the potential to cross over to strict pop music listeners. I wouldn’t expect to hear them on the radio anytime soon, but Turing Machine’s rock is hard enough to win over the bitterest enemies of instrumental music. Besides, with bass that heavy and riffs that righteous, a singer would just get in the way.
Trans Am – Liberation
Ring, Cicada – Goodbye, Mr. Good
Can – Tago Mago
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.