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Secret Machines:: Ten Silver Drops (Album Review)

Secret Machines are ostensibly a guitar, bass and drums trio with plenty of clout to their sound, and lots of big melodic songs courtesy of brothers Brandon and Benjamin Curtis. But the refreshing thing about them is that they are adept at sidestepping rock cliché. Lean and limber with a canny grasp of dynamics and a mercurial sense of rhythm, they pull off the trick of sounding quintessentially American while also embracing, for example, the motorik propulsion of Seventies Krautrock exponents Can and Neu!. It’s not surprising that their music has attracted such a bewildering range of comparisons with other groups.

Hailing from Texas, Secret Machines gathered momentum on the back of their 2002 debut mini-album, September 000, which led to 2004’s Now Here is Nowhere, their even better first full-blown LP. But although they are more focused on Ten Silver Drops, they also sound more reined-in and less idiosyncratic. Maybe it’s a reflection of the grid patterns of their adoptive home, New York, or perhaps they’ve always been heading for the hip end of epic rock.

At times it’s as exciting as riding through the city at night, as on the single ‘Alone, Jealous and Stoned’, which starts out steeped in ennui before gear-shifting into an exultant groove. But on songs like ‘Lightning Blue Eyes’, they navigate the fine line that separates their trademark rhythmic single-mindedness from click-track precision and stadium bluster. And as groups like Mercury Rev have shown, chasing the Big Music can result in a foursquare Pink Floyd-ification of your sound. In fact, the riff of ‘Daddy’s in the Doldrums’ is copped straight from the lumbering ‘funk’ section of Floyd’s ‘Echoes’. Contrast that with the truly funky ‘I Hate Pretending’, on which drummer Josh Garza cuts loose in spectacular fashion – showing us just how much he’d been holding back – and the band really begin to fly.