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Published: 2006/05/14
by Mike Greenhaus

Ten Silver Drops – Secret Machines

Reprise Records 49987-2

The Secret Machines exist in a cloud of light and smoke, the same figment-like world which begot Pink Floyd and Radiohead before them. It’s a dark world, but a euphoric one — the type of place space age arena-rockers have continually dwelled since the mid-1970s. And, like the galaxies their forefathers first explored, the Secret Machines’ solar system is tied together by a series of planet-size songs, each number a world unto its own.

The sophomore release from the New York-based, Dallas-bred, Secret Machines, Ten Silver Drops navigates these constellations, or, more accurately, plays out like the soundtrack of an imaginary planetarium laser-light show. On Ten Silver Drops’ penultimate track, the romance epic “I Want to Know if it’s Still Possible,” the Secret Machines even reference the stars, if only through metaphor, as Brandon Curtis sings “to face the lights in your eyes/crushing stars we collide.” Throughout, Benjamin Curtis’s broad guitar strokes come off like rays of electric light, as if The Edge was backed by the precise beat of an indie-rock drummer.

While not an official concept album, Ten Silver Drops is still the type of album that digests best in a single sitting, when its lush, guitar-heavy soundscapes blend into a dark suite. A recent Rolling Stone review blindly describes Ten Silver Drops as “stoner-rock,” but, in actuality, it requires careful concentration to fully digest the album’s intricate loops and layers. At Ten Silver Drops’ psychedelic core is the haunting eight-minute “Daddy’s in the Doldrums,” which unfolds into a loose jam before slowly fading into perhaps the album’s best track, “I Hate Pretending.”

Without the smoke, lights and three-dimensional theatrics of its live show, the Secret Machines reveal themselves to be, simply put, great pop musicians. Like Pink Floyd and Radiohead before them, the Secret Machines are still a song-based outfit, despite their more cosmetic space-age layering. In fact, Ten Silver Drops is actually built around a series of well-crafted, impeccably produced, pop songs, led by the powerful pipes of Brandon Curtis. “Alone, Jealous and Stoned,” the disc’s opening number, is also Ten Silver Drops most anthemic selection and its best sing-along. Similarly “Lightening Blues Eyes” sounds like a forgotten number from the Joshua Tree-sessions, while “Faded Lines” comes closest to capturing the bright bounce of Wilco’s already seminal A Ghost is Born. Also of note, The Band’s Garth Hudson drops by, adding accordion to “I Want to Know if it’s Still Possible.”

The Secret Machines have a tendency to create emotional, at times, moody music, which many have labeled as melodramatic. In truth, a decade ago, this style of unabashed pop would come off as trite or, in some circles, ironic. But, in the modern indie/jam world, the Secret Machines’ variant of Division Bell space — pop sounds classic and refreshing. No doubt, the trio will float on for years to come.

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