The first thing you’ll notice listening to “Alone, Jealous, and Stoned,” the opener on Ten Silver Drops, the sophomore album from the Secret Machines, is how quiet everything is. But how can this make sense, you wonder. I mean, the drums and piano and guitars are still loud. What’s quiet about any of this?
For those familiar with “First Wave Intact,” the opener off 2004’s Nowhere Is Now Here, the answer is in the type of volume. “Wave” came as an announcement of intent, a sonic bomb of single-chord guitar fury. The bass shook the speakers; the drumming was simple, but turn it all up and you hadn’t heard anything that punishing (for a non-metal band) in a long time. The volume had a one-dimensional quality to it: nothing but loud.
The comparison between opening tracks resonates with their respective albums; “Wave” declared the presence of a band. The song, the first one on the band’s debut, was more than nine minutes long. The members had something to prove, and throughout the album, alternating between Led Zeppelin bombast (“Nowhere Again”) and Pink Floyd ambience (“The Leaves Are Gone”), they proved it.
But it was still only alternating track to track; what they never fully realized on Now Here Is Nowhere was how to reach an effective compromise between these two powerhouse influences. Enter “Alone, Jealous, and Stoned,” which from its onset (minus the piano chord that recalls Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”) shows that the bolts on the three Machines — bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Brandon Curtis, brother guitarist/vocalist Ben Curtis and drummer Josh Garza — have loosened a bit. They’ve made their presence felt, and on Ten Silver Drops its time to take it a step further. It’s time to add some shades to the volume, some curves to the road.
Where Now Here Is Nowhere was equally about force and restraint but always in separate parts, Ten Silver Drops does well to blend the two. Songs such as “All At Once (It’s Not Important)” and “I Hate Pretending” (with Ben Curtis’s expertly chosen upper-fret flourishes) take the foot off the pedal a little. Garza still holds down the ship while the brothers soar, but there’s more feel this time, more sense of song structure. The boys clearly added some U2 to their iPods.
The epic simplicity — or simplistic epic — isn’t abandoned on Ten Silver Drops; it’s just couched between equally strong songs. On standout “Daddy’s in the Doldrums,” the boys show that with a simple four- or five-note melodic riff, they’re still unbeatable. “Doldrums” is this album’s “First Wave Intact,” eight-and-a-half minutes long, led by Ben Curtis’s soaring guitar. The whole thing’s hypnotically loud and endlessly repetitive, but this time they’re confident enough to put it four tracks in. Throughout, Ten Silver Drops shows a young band already maturing, rounding off the harsh edges, moving forward, adding color to the black and white. About the “endless repetition”? The groove is so tight — not just on “Doldrums” but on all of these tracks — that you won’t care. You’ll wonder why it stops at all.
Prefix review: The Secret Machines [The Road Leads Where It’s Led] by Matt Liebowitz