Secret Machines - Awake in the Brain Chamber Music Album Reviews

Secret Machines - Awake in the Brain Chamber Music Album Reviews
One of rock music’s former Next Big Things returns with a propulsive, stream-lined album that has the modest charm of fan service.

Secret Machines began their 2004 debut Now Here is Nowhere with six seconds of silence, and when the kick drum hit, years of buzz became reality: a Next Big Thing band unafraid of all the Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd Laser Spectacular comparisons winging their way. 16 years later, Awake in the Brain Chamber begins much in a similar way, albeit only similar enough to bring the difference between 2004 and 2020 into sharp relief. “First Wave Intact” boomed like “When the Levee Breaks” out of the Darrell K. Royal jumbotron, and Awake in the Brain Chamber’s opening moments thud like two kids smacking a tetherball in a deserted schoolyard—a sound that absorbed every deflating circumstance of the past decade-plus, which were marked by artistic stalemates, fading commercial fortunes, and unthinkable tragedy. But if “3,4,5 Let’s Stay Alive” is the opposite of a Big Comeback from a former Big Thing, that’s kind of the entire point—Secret Machines just sound relieved that Awake in the Brain Chamber actually exists.
It’s a wise management of expectations for a version of Secret Machines that’s downsized in all ways. Original guitarist Benjamin Curtis died of lymphoma in 2013 at the age of 35, and his imprint is still noticeable on the remaining duo of brother Brandon and drummer Josh Garza; his electro-pop project School of Seven Bells is referenced in “3,4,5 Let’s Stay Alive.” Awake in the Brain Chamber clocks in at just a bit over a half hour, sucking out the dry ice and fog that filled the air as past songs stretched out past five minutes. What remains is an album built in the image of “Nowhere Again” or “Lightning Blue Eyes,” propulsive, streamlined, and feasibly pop—the kind of songs that once put Secret Machines alongside Arcade Fire as David Bowie’s favorite rock bands of 2004, or at least ones that pointed towards a brighter future at that moment than U2.

If the concept of “krautrock, but with choruses” is no longer novel in 2020, it’s at least fresh on Awake in the Brain Chamber—even as their vision of planetarium-ready rock receded almost entirely from the public imagination, Now Here is Nowhere maintained its cult appeal in large part because there really hasn’t been anything remotely like it since. Though Secret Machines don’t have the same sense of scope or scale today, the economized production and sleek song structures become an unexpected asset. Awake in the Brain Chamber shifts towards a more stately, synth-heavy sound. The sweeping and silvery “Talos’ Corpse” and “Angel Come” reimagine Secret Machines as logical forerunners and peers of British “The Big Music” revivalists like Foals or the Horrors, studio nerds who developed into a reliable late-afternoon festival act, rather than a band at the top of the American Landfill Indie heap, as their Spotify’s “Fans Also Like” page suggests.

But Awake in the Brain Chamber has the modest charm of fan service, intended for an audience that’s actively rooting for Secret Machines to succeed. The back story is indispensable to project a sense of stakes onto a record that takes the straightest path in cruising to the finish line, never once swerving or stepping on the gas. While certainly the tightest Secret Machines LP, much like Brandon Curtis’ side gig Interpol, the band’s power is directly proportional to an unshakeable belief in its inherent profundity. As longtime fans know, Awake in the Brain Chamber stands in the place of an even more troubled predecessor: The Moth, The Lizard and the Secret Machines was completed in 2010 and scrapped at the mixing stage, deemed “too depressing.” The duo plans to release it at some point, and hopefully it does come to light, if only to reveal what “depressing Secret Machines” might actually sound like. They’ve never been particularly forthcoming with their emotions, with Ten Silver Drops standout “Alone, Jealous and Stoned” standing as the rule-proving exception. Awake in the Brain Chamber is best when Curtis is at his most vulnerable—giving himself a pep talk in the call-and-response chorus of “Everything Starts,” muttering “I want to give up” all too believably throughout the chorus of “Talos’ Corpse,” before amending himself—“I want to give up, but don’t.” They sound like they have much more to give.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Secret Machines - Awake in the Brain Chamber Music Album Reviews Secret Machines - Awake in the Brain Chamber Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Monday, September 14, 2020 Rating:

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