Album Reviews

Secret Machines: Awake in the Brain Chamber – “Paranoid snapshots make way for something truly candid”

Brandon Curtis and Josh Garza return with a long-awaited Secret Machines LP.

So, another Secret Machines album?

Following 2008’s patchy self-titled third album, many (including myself) thought that the project had run its course.

Not least with co-founding member and brother of Brandon Curtis, Benjamin, who had moved on after Ten Silver Drops to collaborate with sisters, Alejandra and Claudia Deheza as School of Seven Bells.

Benjamin‘s untimely passing in 2013 after a lengthy battle with T-cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma at the age of thirty-five was a stark reminder to us all that this life can be taken from anyone within the blink of an eye.

In 2012, Brandon began demoing material which Benjamin assisted on and his involvement on Awake in the Brain Chamber, Secret Machines‘ subtly radiant fourth album, is intrinsic. In short, Benjamin‘s spirit undoubtedly embodies these tracks.

Awake in the Brain Chamber may have been released years earlier with Curtis and drummer, Josh Garza teasing a return in 2018. However, shortly after, Garza‘s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer not long after the birth of their daughter.

Suffice to say, this album is ensnared with emotional complexity, which further begs the question: was another Secret Machines album worth it?

Secret Machines are a band that hover beneath the surface of your conventional rock band. Look no further than their name. Elusive, slightly paranoid, subtly asking questions. Their music doesn’t demand the world exactly, however their fervent devotees are the kind to really hold onto something they love. Some bands just have that emotional pull and Secret Machines operate in this misty milieu.

One can extract a great deal from this band’s aesthetic if they explore deep enough into their sonic quarries. It’s a rewarding journey and one that reaffirms that we need bands like Secret Machines now more than ever.

Opening number, 3, 4, 5, Let’s Stay Alive is filled with retrospective themes (including a reference to Curtis‘ brother joining School of Seven Bells), building behind Garza‘s trademark thunderous, mechanical drum fills and Curtis‘ elusive riffs that appear and graze like stray bullets.

Secret Machines – Awake in the Brain Chamber

With riffs that echo from the bellows, Dream Is Alright is a glitch-laden, multi-layered motorik space-rocker etched with a pop sensibility not a world away from The Flaming LipsThe Terror era.

Talos’ Corpse and Everything Starts are tracks that need your undivided attention and grow stronger with each listen. Both methodical, meandering and just when you think they can be filed under filler, Curtis‘ melodies, as they often do, cut through new terrains, guiding us into a vital new world.

This is what Secret Machines feed off. It’s what makes them, indeed, them.

With rollicking drums and spatial grooves, on Everything’s Under Secret Machines are running with the wild dogs. So good, the track could have infiltrated its way onto either of the band’s era-defining records in Now Here Is Nowhere and Ten Silver Drops.

Filled with spiky spatial drones and ricocheting riffs, Angel Come is a full blown space jam cloaked in a dream state.

Something A New Disaster is not. What it is, however, is arguably the finest track the band has written since Alone Jealous and Stoned.

With a melody that passes through you like a freshly sharpened knife amid a backdrop of swirling grooves and glacial soundscapes, A New Disaster possesses all facets and reasoning as to why we fell in love with this band in the first place.

While the Secret Machines‘ past for closing tracks has been somewhat hit and miss, So Far Down is most certainly in the former category. A synth-inspired sprawl that feels like you are floating on clouds, it contains Curtis‘ most pertinent statement on the album:

“Baby when you’re so far down / Find a way out, an end / Well you know I’m down / Take it apart/Make a different arrangement.”

Curtis‘ often mysterious missives and paranoid snapshots make way for something truly candid here. Ultimately, that’s what this record is about.

Given these songs were pieced together over many years like a weathered second-hand jigsaw puzzle, it’s startling just how seamless and unsullied Awake in the Brain Chamber is.

At just over thirty minutes in length, Awake in the Brain Chamber is an articulate works that has opened up a whole new landscape for the band. It will be fascinating to see where Secret Machines go to next.

Was another Secret Machines album worth it? Very much so.

Awake in the Brain Chamber is out now via TSM Recordings.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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