Secret Machines: Secret Machines

Dallas expatriates the Secret Machines make unapologetically big recordings, with dramatic songwriting and full, wet sounds — not unlike ...Trail of Dead, a similar band from Texas. Secret Machines seem to better inhabit that aesthetic, though, and as a result their music feels more natural, with a Bowie-esque sense of worldliness and sophistication that gives them something like a license for the epic. However, the band isn't very charismatic, and despite its larger-than-life sound, the music can come off as anonymous or generic. It's a problem that has increased on this self-titled record, the first the band has made without guitarist/vocalist Ben Curtis. He seems to have taken some of the Machines' melodic flair with him; with his keyboardist/vocalist brother Brandon now solely responsible for vocals, the songs are less immediate and more atmospheric. Brandon Curtis has a gauzy, unprepossessing voice, and though he's a solid singer who writes intelligently, particularly on "Have I Run Out" and the Floyd-like "The Walls Are Starting to Crack," his performances aren't commanding. Secret Machines sounds awesome, especially the cannily naturalistic representation of Josh Garza's towering drumming, and even its digressions into noise are tasteful and logical. But it's a difficult record to get into, and doesn't have the depth to justify that challenge.

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Daniel Mee