While listening to The Young Machines, it’s almost impossible to picture San Franciscan Mark Bianchi fronting his former hardcore band. His lyrical confessionals are rife with reclusive sensitivity. The Young Machines reads like the diary of a hard year, chronicling Bianchi’s struggles with betrayal, love, and most prominently, loss. It’s frank and unadorned, sometimes a bit too naked, but ultimately a bloodletting made easier by the pillowy beats and fuzzy loops that envelop it.
“My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” instantly brings to mind the best moments of the Postal Service with its whimsical, soft-pedaled electronica and instantaneously familiar pop hook. This sleepwalking stroll over a sugary hip-hop beat captures the best aspects of Her Space Holiday‘s detached melancholy. Lyrically, it’s also one of the most beautifully written and rhymed (e.g., “The mess that I made putting my life on parade / Now the writers can say ‘we were right all along / You can’t make someone love you with your songs’”). “Something to Do with My Hands” is one of the sweetest, foot-under-the-table infidelity songs you’re ever going to hear. And Bianchi seems to be rather prolific in this genre (I count at least two songs that involve O.P.P.). Wrapped around a lightly thumping carousel beat, Bianchi tosses off ear whispering booty poetry. Turns of phrase like “keep you sleepy as the south” and “fucking fit of honesty” deftly mint Bianchi’s own brand of horny romanticism. It’s mack-lite for people with glasses, allergies, and really great taste in corduroy.
Although I sometimes think that adult innocence is just a kind way of pronouncing someone retarded, there’s a certain naïvely powerful truthfulness in some of Bianchi’s more serious songs. “Sleepy California”, the least electronic-sounding track, is a protracted apology for not seeing his grandmother (Reva Bianchi) before she died and how that loss has made him reconsider his relationship with his mother. When he says “I never thought I’d say this, but I miss my mom”, my heart almost cracks. The piano loop, Keely’s harmonizing undercurrent, and the sparse and spacey guitar, create this atmosphere of heavy nostalgia and reflection. You can almost see him penning this on a bus trip home. Some people might find his undisguised exploration of his personal life to be a bit emotionally trampy, but give or take a song, I buy it wholeheartedly and find his lack of pretension refreshing.
It’s on the more ambient, drifting songs where Bianchi unwinds and hypnotizes. Although he criticizes his own vocals on the album (“Meet the Pressure”), I personally like the fact that it sounds more like he’s slowly inhaling and exhaling than singing. His voice is like a quiet footfall through his music and its introspective purr is one of the most soothing aspects of listening to any Her Space Holiday album. Especially on tracks like “Girl Problem”, where the song’s ebbing violin loops and pattering drumbeats already seem to mimic sleeping lungs. Similarly, “From South Carolina” slow drips keyboard riffs over an unshelled beat that could easily appear on a Matmos or Four Tet album. I think the word “organic” is probably a misnomer when it comes to techno, but with Her Space Holiday I think I understand that what’s really meant by organic is unintrusive. In fact, the loops, beats, and segues into guitar slide so gently into one another that the final product sounds seamless.
Only a couple of times during the album, did the lyrics scuff my listening pleasure. “Japanese Gum” is about someone saving a slut from her trashy ways. It’s a self-indulgent hagiography. Here he comes, IndieBoy, rescuing women from self-destruction by merely pointing out for them that they’re such whores. And whores are bad, kids. I find that sentiment quaint like dioramas. And just as easy to knock on the floor. Then there’s the wholly lamentable “Meet the Pressure”. Presumably, this song is a comeback to some music critic, not a bad subject for a song, really. However, is the best retort that he can cook up in his pop lab, “Yeah, you might think I suck, but your girlfriend wants to fuck me”? Gee, and me without a set of monkey bars. Yeah, it can hurt to have someone not like what you do, but the alternative is narcissistic totalitarianism. It’s not a critic’s job to act as a reflecting pool. And God knows that music writers get criticism in their inbox that you’d think was written by Ann Coulter bottoming out on crank. Whenever artists tantrum like this, I find myself wishing I could airlift them into Liberia. Being an artist is a wonderful vocation, not a sign of divinity, and it’s only a few accidents of history and commerce that have given artists their current incarnation as thin-skinned, bawling, little Gods. Oh, and I’m pretty sure that my boyfriend is not secretly stroking it to a Her Space Holiday record as I write this.
Whatever qualms I might have about the sometimes over-the-top sensitivity or curiously defensive masculinity, I can not deny that this album goes down effortlessly. Bianchi’s skill at constructing these breathtaking little symphonies under glass is a small marvel. Who knows, maybe some of his coquettish empathy will waft into me like stray perfume. But I’ll probably just love the record and keep on being a good-natured prick.
// Notes from the Road
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