When asked about the title of his new record, Brandon Curtis (vocals/keys/bass) says, "I had a dream and there was this line from a poem in the dream. It was: 'The lining was gone and all that was left was ten silver drops.' It just meant something to me. The idea of the silver lining of the cloud being gone, and it was just a phrase that came out and it felt like the title, like the name of the work." And he's right. When taken in the context of evaporating hope, of a silver lining slipping away, you can hear the residue of these emotions on Ten Silver Drops.
Since coming out of the Dallas, TX experimental-indie scene in 2000, Secret Machines (Brandon along with brother Benjamin Curtis on guitar and vocals and old-friend Josh Garza on drums) have quickly become one of the most talked-about rock bands on the scene. After moving to New York, the trio released their stunning major-label debut, Now Here Is Nowhere, in 2004. With the massive critical praise garnered from Nowhere, the band had set the bar incredibly high for their follow-up. As anticipation was boiling over, there was fear of the "Sophomore Slump." So what does the band do? They elect to shrug off the suggestion of using a producer (they have yet to use one) and booked time in Allaire Studios - a gorgeous, mountain-top recording facility located upstate in Shokan, New York. Allaire happens to be the same location My Morning Jacket recorded their amazing 2005 record, Z, which begs the question, "What's in the Shokan water?"
In less than a year, we have seen two of the greatest space-rock albums in recent history come out of Allaire Studios. MMJ's Z was widely considered the best overall album of 2005 (regardless of genre), and there's a good chance that the Machines' Ten Silver Drops will end up in many "Best of 2006" lists. In fact, half way through the year, I don't know that there's been a better rock-jam than the eight-minute "Daddy's in the Doldrums." Some folks are put off by the band's long-winded approach, but there are ideas and thoughts that take longer than three-minutes to explain (and when I say "thoughts," I am referring to musical thoughts as the vocals are somewhat paltry on "Doldrums"). Perhaps if you can't stick with an interesting song that unravels over five, six, or seven minutes, you should check your medication. We have no problem watching garbage-ass television shows that say nothing in thirty or sixty-minute intervals; why can't we listen to a sonic assault for eight?
Although Ten Silver Drops is not all dark jams and disturbing drones like we find on the Floyd-inspired "Doldrums." There is a pervasive sense of distance, isolation, and introspection. Where Nowhere was toiling in a post-9/11 vibe, Drops is rooted in the demise of inter-personal relationships. These emotions are clearly portrayed on "Alone, Jealous and Stoned" (the first single) with its sparse piano descending into pulsating drums and "All At Once (It's Not Important)" with Brandon singing, "Remember back when we first met, it don't mean much." On "I Hate Pretending," they pick up the pace with layers of synth and a more progressive appproach to the time structure. And on "I Want To Know," (Brandon's favorite track) The Band's Garth Hudson is featured on a heavily processed accordion solo that sets the mood for a psychedelic slow-burner.
Ten Silver Drops is the record that solidifies Secret Machines as truly one of the day's great bands. They put themselves on the map with their amazing debut, Now Here Is Nowhere, they consistently deliver high-octane, stadium-worthy live shows, and they have just put out a sophomore album that shows considerable growth and maturity. Ten Silver Drops erases any doubts and should elevate the band from underground heroes to budding stars. If they can continue to raise their game, there should be no stopping Secret Machines.
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