The third album from New York-based Texans Secret Machines is also their first without guitarist Benjamin Curtis, who was credited with creating the tumultuous crashing guitar sound of their stunning debut, 2004’s Now Here Is Nowhere. However, Curtis’ departure (to form School Of Seven Bells) doesn’t seem to have affected the remaining duo of Brandon Curtis (Ben’s brother) and Josh Garza, alongside new member Phil Karnats. This is primarily down to Garza’s pummelling drumming style: when they’re at their best, it propels them forward with the same intensity and energy it always has.
-Atomic Heels’ opens proceedings with a typically goth-rock clamour, reminiscent of Faith And Devotion era Depeche Mode. -Last Believer, Drop Dead’ follows the classic Secret Machines blueprint, treading a fine line between raw power and melody: it begins slowly with slabs of bass, before layers of serrated guitar up the tension and eventually, Curtis’ vocals enter the fray, waxing metaphysical about the book of Saint Thomas. The slow-burning -Have I Run Out’ is all apocalyptic imagery, meaty rhythms and guitars that slice into the mix like mini air-raid sirens, bleeding straight into the frantic (by their standards) -Underneath The Concrete’. Think the brooding majesty of Interpol, with the amps turned up full. Sadly, this is the last time the three-piece really let down their hair. Unfortunately, the album’s second half is a little too uniformly funereal in terms of pacing to really excite, when even one full-on wig-out would have lifted the mood.
OK, so there’s the gorgeous heartbreak of -Now You’re Gone’, two parts Joy Division, one part Take That (and we mean that as a compliment): worth it for the shiver-inducing moment when the guitars whoosh in pre-crescendo. However, the melancholy is laid on a little thick on -The Walls Are Starting To Crack’, which sadly descends into experimental noise for its middle-eight, while -I Never Thought To Ask’ is a little melancholy-by-numbers for this band. The closing -The Fire Is Waiting’ ups the ante, with huge swathes of cascading guitars, chunky bass and sub-neanderthal drums forming the bedrock for an 11-minute epic – Led Zeppelin’s -No Quarter’ crossed with Interpol’s -NYC’ – of beautiful noise. Ultimately, it’s not enough to fully rescue the album. While Secret Machines is initially thrilling, it falls a little short of their high standards thanks to the general slothfulness of its second half.