I don’t mean to sound like a bitter old man here, but since when is it not a bad thing for musicians to not be able to sing or play their instruments? I’m all for the DIY spirit, and I still believe a technically average performer can create powerful, evocative music if there is passion and craft in the performance—that’s why we’re all still listening to Dylan, even though the guy has a horrible voice at surface level—but at the end of the day, there has to be a line somewhere.
Two minutes into the shiny electro-synth pop of “Honey”, without a doubt, the most satisfying track on this debut release from the husband-and-wife duo of Brad Rose and Eden Hemming-Rose that is Altar Eagle, something rather frightening happens with a tambourine. The part starts sweetly enough, dropped in innocently over the cheap, cute programmed beat that serves as the track’s framework, but it quickly becomes clear that whoever overdubbed the tambourine either did it while drunk or has never played one before. Succinctly, it has to be one of the most off-beat takes ever recorded.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet “The Line”.
Try dancing to it—I assure you it’s pretty impossible. In a hilarious turn, the rhythmically challenged player gives up toward the end of the song and just starts shaking the tambourine wildly for around 20 seconds. That actually works better.
“You Lost Your Neon Haze” actually commences with a promisingly trippy synth pattern and a clicky, effects-drenched beat. It’s a hell of a soundscape, one that begs to be part of a meditative film score. But there’s no visual, of course—only mind-numbing musical repetition. The mumbled, barely audible “la la la” vocals are pretty much dead on arrival, too.
Patience is a virtue, my friends, and I suppose if you can sit through the entire seven minutes of “Neon Haze” without falling asleep, you deserve some sort of medal. With “B’nai B’rith Girls”, keep thinking in this same frame of mind, except take those low expectations and make them even less catchy. There’s an arpeggiated synth pattern and a muted, half-assed beat. And…that’s it. Luckily, tracks like “Neon Haze” and “B’nai B’rith Girls” are flukes in that most of Mechanical Gardens isn’t designed for ambient headphone lurking. Instead, the Roses usually strive for the same kind of glowing, electronic pop drama M83 has been delivering for years now (with the aid of skilled playing and proper recording techniques, I might add).
They never get there.
Throughout Mechanical Gardens, the tag-team, boy-girl vocals sound like poorly recorded wafts of helium, floating in a light reverb haze that rarely rises above a murmur. Instead of adding a mysterious lo-fi glow, it just comes across as poorly recorded, and ultimately ends up as frustrating. However, when the Roses bother to push their voices higher in the mix, you’ll be so turned off by the missed notes and boring execution, you’ll be begging for the former option.
The longer your visit to Mechanical Gardens, the lower your standards.