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Secret’s’ out: Band’s newest album release ‘drops’ the ball

Joe Lattal | Thursday, March 30, 2006

Secret Machines does not sound like they’re from Dallas. They don’t even sound like they’re from America, as their cleanly processed and deliberatively uttered rock music has a more European sound.

But the Machines have been doing their thing in Texas since the critically acclaimed release of “September 000” (2002). Singer Brandon Curtis’s mature and crisp vocals reign over guitars, percussion and electronic effects, mashed together to produce an epic wave of sound on every track. The Machines mastered the art of subtle detail and close attention to every moment on each song from the beginning.

They garnered the most attention for their polished “Now Here Is Nowhere” (2004), an album that landed on several best-of-2004 lists. The album featured a mix of songs that develop slowly, such as the title track, and contain more radio-friendly pop tracks such as “The Road Leads Where It’s Led.”

The Machines’ trademark became songs with painfully long instrumental introductions (sometimes without melody) keeping the audience in suspense, waiting for a pulse. Exhibit A: a nine-minute cover of Bob Dylan’s “Girl From North Country” that opens with two minutes of a tone.

But on the latest Machines release, “Ten Silver Drops,” the formula has gotten played out. The band dawdles through eight songs in over 45 minutes. Even the more interesting tracks drag more than any major label producer should allow. While the style might be innovative, making every tune sound like its own epic adventure, none of the songs have much value beyond the first listen.

After just listening to one song, the audience is already screaming, “No mas!” It appears the Machines have made an effort to drain energy from its listeners with each tune.

“Ten Silver Drops” is the kind of music one might favorably look back on in 20 years since it was so intricately put together. But for now, listeners are better off getting their taste of mature-sounding indie rock from other artists such as I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness or Destroyer.

The fact each song takes so long to build makes the end result much more dissatisfying given the album’s weakness. There’s no reason to run mediocre ballads, such as “Faded Lines,” into the ground. The style is just digging the song’s grave deeper.

Besides the fact the writing isn’t as strong as “Nowhere,” once listeners get through the album, the last thing they’ll want to do is listen to it again. Great albums are like addictions – enough is never enough, and wishful thinkers always wish the best songs were a little longer or the album had just one more track.

On “Ten Silver Drops,” by the time the closer “1,000 Seconds” is reached, it’s a mystery why it’s taken so long for the band to make their point. The album has virtually no repeatability factor, with the possible exception of one of the shorter tracks “I Hate Pretending,” which clocks in at just over five minutes.

Each track is reminiscent of what a lot of rock bands have tried to toss at the end of albums – a conclusive and dramatic climax with sharp production that takes the liberty of being longer than an ordinary song. Unfortunately, the listener wishes he or she was at the end of the album after listening to just one song from “Ten Silver Drops.”