David Browne
May 14, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Now Here Is Nowhere

Current Status
In Season
Reprise Records

We gave it an A-

The Secret Machines want to rock your body ’til the break of day, but they sure take their time doing it. Many songs on their first album, Now Here Is Nowhere, start as sinister rumbles — imagine a drowsy New Order with Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham behind the drum kit. Only after a few minutes do the singers open their mouths and does the music lurch into full-throttle acceleration, as if the songs had just woken from a deep sleep and downed five cups of coffee.

Unlike many a U.S. underground band, the trio — once of Dallas, now of New York City — aims to build an imposing castle of sound that owes more to proggers and shoe gazers past than to punk thrashers. (They stand apart vocally, too: Singer-guitarist Benjamin Curtis and brother/bassist-keyboardist-singer Brandon Curtis sound like Brits imitating Americans.) It’s therefore utterly logical that Now Here Is Nowhere, in stores May 18, has been available for months on iTunes and the band’s website: It proudly revives the long-moribund genre of headphone rock.

You remember headphone rock, don’t you? The Secret Machines do, and their influences are slathered all over the album. One can hear hints of Pink Floyd, My Bloody Valentine, and other sound envelopers who were always better when cranked directly into one’s ears. The Machines tap into that majestic legacy of world-unto-itself psychedelia and modernize it with melodic-meat-grinder sonics. After opening with ”First Wave Intact,” nearly nine minutes of breaker upon breaker of metallic thrash, the trio proceeds to blend the pulverizing, the hooky, and the enigmatic in bewitching tracks like ”Light’s On,” ”The Leaves Are Gone” (Nick Drake gone Kraut rock), and ”The Road Leads Where It’s Led,” with its creepy ”blowing all the other kids away” refrain. The latter could be interpreted as a Columbine reference, but the songs’ lyrics are eerily ambiguous — all hazy images of wintry desolation, ceaseless rain, and people who sleep in due to psychic or chemical exhaustion.

At times the Machines get too prog & roll. All doomy atmosphere and Roger Waters-inspired war imagery, ”Pharaoh’s Daughter” is little more than a poor man’s Dark Side of the Moon. But even such weak links on an otherwise potent disc serve a purpose. Back when bands like Floyd were in their mid-’70s prime, those who preferred to huddle in their bedrooms with headphones and favorite LPs did so out of ennui, complacency, or post-’60s burnout. In contrast, Now Here Is Nowhere is solitaire rock for a new era, in which shutting out the world isn’t just a luxury but sometimes a necessity.

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