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Secret Machines at Manchester Academy 2

There’s a Jean Michel Jarre light display high-beaming through an eerie mist, and there’s a drum clap and light explosion so loud it reverberates through your nostrils...

Published on April 4th 2006.

Secret Machines at Manchester Academy 2

Academy 2, 2nd April 2006

There’s a Jean Michel Jarre light display high-beaming through an eerie mist, a piano whistles ominously to itself, shadowy figures - hair draped across their face, enter the stage, and there’s a drum clap and light explosion so loud it reverberates through your nostrils. Welcome to Secret Machines country.

Texan trio the Secret Machines have established an effectively small, yet devout group of followers since the release of their extraordinary debut album; Now Here is Nowhere in 2004, patrons of their brooding, glacial rock-scape include Noel Gallagher, David Bowie and, um… me. A reason for this is because the ‘Machines exist in their own hermetically sealed vacuum; separating themselves from the constraints of mainstream ‘rock’. They have more in common with Sigur Rós than Maximo Park.

So separate from the pack are the Secret Machines, they’re not even bothering with a support act. This, admittedly, isn’t quite as cool, as it means I have to sit on my own playing Space Invaders on my phone for an hour. But when the band does appear, with their pentecostal organ-sound, their elysian guitar chimes and the meatiest drum sound in the world, it’s almost spiritual.

Songs from their looming second album; Ten Silver Drops seem to steer their musical vernacular towards a larger sense of the odd, with some beguiling harmonies and even a dollop of blues. Yet for the most part, their essence has stayed in tact, as with songs from their first album: Sad and Lonely and Road Leads Where It’s Led still make a gentleman in a red shirt swing his arms around like a helicopter and make a number of approving (slightly over zealous) gestures towards our hosts. The rest of us stand with an intent scowl, stroking our chins in approval, nodding intermittently to the monstrous, recurring drum beat.

Intelligently opting for a brief set (holding back the prog-urges) the band appear predominantly as silhouettes in front of an ocean of reds, blues and greens. Drummer Josh Garza is the key to the Secret Machines sound; his thunderous, repetitive, but never monotonous, beat allows guitarist Ben Curtis’s dancing to go from a gentle nod to a full scale guitar-wrestling spectacle during the crushing First Wave Down; and keyboard / bass player Brandon Curtis’s lead vocal wavers from childlike to colossal.

The Secret Machines produce heavy music for those who hate heavy music; it’s John Bonham beating Pink Floyd to death with drum sticks. Their stage presence and music is so powerful it destroys any conception of the typical, clichéd live performance, the band only mutter a few words throughout their entire set: ‘Thank you’, ‘Our album is out Monday’ and, interestingly; ‘Thanks again.’ The Secret Machine’s demographic, chiefly of the bearded muso orientation, is also open to all who are tired with lifeless, vacuous ‘rock’ music, and want to experience something fresh, epic and beautiful.

Stephen Fairbanks
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