Until last week, I kept mixing up Secret Machines with two different record labels: Secretly Canadian and Simple Machines. Upon hearing tracks from Secret Machines' sophomore album, Ten Silver Drops, there is no more confusion.
For us Dallas folk, we may recognize the members of this band from their time in some notable '90s bands. Brothers Ben and Brandon Curtis played together in UFOFU, Ben played in Tripping Daisy and Brandon and drummer Josh Garza played in Captain Audio. Though the band relocated to New York a few years ago, they've made no attempt to hide their past. Hearing what these guys have done together of under the moniker of Secret Machines is a point of pride.
The band's debut album, Now Here is Nowhere, is a pretty expansive collection of spacey rock, but I find it a tad frustrating. Songs build and build and sometimes emit tuneful melodies, but that's only sometimes. Ten Silver Drops does not have this problem as melodies really come out of nowhere and are easy to enjoy over and over again. Don't think Secret Machines have become some radio-friendly rock for the Top 40 crowd; rather, they've made good on the promise of Now Here is Nowhere.
To be honest, I'm really glad there is a band like this out there getting some nice attention with it. I'm hesitant to call these guys shoegaze rock or stadium space rock ala Pink Floyd, but if you're tired of all these young bands playing a modern version of post-punk, this is something different. Maybe this is why people are taking notice. I don't know, but it's pretty cool to hear stuff like Jim and Greg rave about them on Sound Opinions and David Bowie interviewing them via a podcast (thanks for the heads-up Nerver!) instead of megasized web banners and full page magazine ads. This is organic praise, not mechanized praise. Sure, not everybody gets this band, but the ones that do understand how such a sigh of relief this is.
Though major labels pitch artistic freedom to indie bands to lure them out, there rarely is a follow-through. In the case of Secret Machines, though on Reprise Records (you know, the label that rejected Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot for not being commercial enough), the band has fully utilized the kind of resources a major label can offer. Producing their albums themselves, releasing their albums online weeks before they're in stores and headlining clubs instead of sheds, these are just some of things they've done. I'm sure there are dozens of bands on major labels that would kill for the kind of stuff that Secret Machines have been able to do. This doesn't restore my faith in major labels, but at least these guys have been able to pop out some great rock that's not tied down by the trendy styles of the day.