These guys should be called two pussies and an ass-kicker,” said an audience member when watching the Secret Machines open up for Blonde Redhead back in April at the Fine Line. That statement couldn’t be more right-on for describing the Secret Machines.
Brothers Brandon and Benjamin Curtis stand meekly on stage and play guitars and a keyboard that hide their melodies in a thick fog – like listening to Brit-pop underwater. Their posture and hazy amoebic sounds resemble early 1990s shoegazer bands such as My Bloody Valentine. But they refurbish the dissonant genre with shining vocals so that every word clearly resonates. Lyrics such as “Another alone on an everyday night” evoke the same endless rain-cloud rhetoric of the music.
This explains why the Curtises would be called a derogatory slang term for female genitalia. It implies the males have taken on such feminine-attributed characteristics as sensitivity. Many of the bands (often emo) now branded as “pussy music” acquire the label for their heartbreak that, instead of heartfelt, sounds like a whiney preteen. The Secret Machines are therefore unfairly grouped with the pussies. “Now Here is Nowhere,” avoids blaming girls for broken hearts and, rather, explores hopeless isolation.
The real reason the Curtises would be described as pussies is because they’re compared to the band’s drummer, the ass-kicker. Josh Garza pounds mercilessly upon his drums with sticks normally reserved for a drumline. These longer and thicker drum sticks produce a heavy and thunderous beat, the kind found in Led Zeppelin.
The drummer is rarely the highlight of the band. Only a handful of drummers have a recognizable name. Mostly the lead singer or guitarist is credited with creating the group’s sound. But the very second “Nowhere” begins with Garza’s trudging thumps, it’s his beats that set Secret Machines apart from other bands.
While Garza’s talent is the best part of Secret Machines, the album fails to capture his rhythm’s full intensity. Live, his drums send deep vibrations into your rib cage. His drums are the most forceful instrument on stage. On the album, the rhythm is balanced in the mix and blends with the fuzzy guitars. Perhaps it makes for a better-sounding album, but compared to the live show, the album is a pale reflection.
The Secret Machines’ music has a beautiful, soothing Vicodin-like quality; like listening to Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham playing behind ambient pioneer Brian Eno while sipping warm tea. But it’s Garza’s drumming that will be remembered. So, if it comes down to a choice between buying the album and seeing the band live, go see them Tuesday.