The Secret Machines: Now Here Is Nowhere

[12 May 2004]

By Ryan Potts

After a relocation to both New York and a major label, the Secret Machines have reexamined their sound, rethought their muse, and revamped their influences in order to simultaneously hearken back to the 1970s and delve into a future all their own -– albeit a future not yet full realized. From Can and Pink Floyd to Led Zeppelin and Queen, Now Here Is Nowhere is an album that skitters from many notable ‘70s icons of divergent genres -– from Krautrock to space-rock to stadium rock and back again -– usually within one song. But the real test to the sonic alchemy that the Secret Machines explore is if they can in fact reach and achieve the noble goals their sound on Now Here Is Nowhere introduces.

Much of Now Here Is Nowhere is, essentially, a balance of contrasting elements and a study of opposites. Many songs offer a Krautrock-inspired groove that underpins the bouts of psychadelia and spatial openness that the Secret Machines employ in nearly every track. Their adept feeling for tight rhythmic tension grounds the songs, keeping them earthbound when they yearn to drift and expand in every direction. This is both a blessing and a curse as the Secret Machines, unfortunately, tend to harness their experimental nature in order to delve deeper into their rock roots that, fortunately, offer enticing instrumental interplay and feature well placed vocal melodies.

Now Here Is Nowhere‘s nine songs are bookended by two sprawling nine-minute epics that ebb, flow, and float as well as retain a sense of urgency. “First Wave Intact”, the album’s opening track, hits with sticky bass grooves and pounding drums while a gentle ambient tone and effect-ridden guitar figures float somewhere in the background. It is this very sonic dichotomy that the Secret Machines teeter on for much of the album while they effectively introduce a keen sense of diversity into their sound that is extracted from the aforementioned ‘70s groups.

Now Here Is Nowhere‘s seven song midsection features a selection of tracks that are shorter in length but still retain the spacious yet earthy elements of the opening and closing songs. “Sad and Lonely” is a bit more rigidly structured rock-oriented song that is glued together by the strong rhythmic punch employed by the drums. Upbeat vocal melodies and guitar lines abound, the Secret Machines then switch emotional gears on the following track. “Leaves Are Gone” utilizes a slow, mellow ambient drone provided by a keyboard as vocalist Brandon Curtis sprinkles a downcast melody over a slowly-plucked acoustic guitar and new age-leaning harmonies.

Although “Leaves Are Gone” expands slowly and softly and richly contrasts much of Now Here Is Nowhere‘s rhythmically-taut numbers, it is also one of the album’s best moments if not for its adept sense of diversity, then for its tranquil, atmospheric mood. “Pharaoh’s Daughter” is yet another intriguing sonic angle that is tackled by this three-some as it strongly evokes Spiritualized’s celebration of sound on Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space with its slowly building piano notes and treated guitar textures.

The Secret Machines may be pressuring themselves a bit too hard to recall ‘70s Kraut- and space-rock -– they did in fact enlist Jeff Blenkinsopp to produce, a man who helped shape the sound of Pink Floyd and Hawkwind –- however, they put to tape some genuinely sublime moments of music. However, if the music of Now Here Is Nowhere is released from its restraints and given into the strong sense of diversity that the Secret Machines hint at, only then will this three-some create the mesmerizing music they attempt to make. Nonetheless, Now Here Is Nowhere is a firm step in the right direction.

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