What becomes of the broken-hearted? Well, most just get to cry in their beer for a couple of weeks or until their friends weary of the whining (whichever comes sooner). But rock stars get to record entire CDs about their relationship disasters, which is exactly what the New York-based Secret Machines have done on Ten Silver Drops. Opening with the downhearted ”Alone, Jealous and Stoned” and closing on the bittersweet ”1,000 Seconds,” the trio’s second full-length album does not get much more optimistic in between. The result is a spiritual sibling to such previous great, emotionally raw ruminations on shattered personal lives as Phil Collins’ Face Value and Beck’s Sea Change.
That singer-keyboardist-bassist Brandon Curtis, guitarist brother Benjamin, and drummer Josh Garza have made such a CD is surprising. Their acclaimed 2004 debut, Now Here Is Nowhere, was a chilly collection whose generous track lengths and lyrics about seraphs and pharaohs evoked comparisons to prog-rockers of yore, particularly Pink Floyd. Since then, however, all three members have been dumped — or, as Brandon puts it on their website, ”We experienced a deconstruction of our lives” — which may explain why Ten Silver Drops is a much more concise and consistent album than its predecessor.
Such songs as the midtempo rockers ”Lightning Blue Eyes” and ”Faded Lines” find the trio moving away from the more experimental influences (Kraftwerk, Spiritualized) evident on Now Here Is Nowhere, for a more compactly melodic vibe. There are times when they almost sound like a superior emo band — thanks to a newfound economy and the lyrics that are a catalog of query-filled relationship autopsies. ”How could you forgive and just forget?” Brandon Curtis asks on the rumbling ”All at Once,” while the almost Nine Inch Nails-inclined ”I Hate Pretending” offers the head-scratcher ”Do you believe in luck or the art of persuasion?” The words are not the strongest suit of Ten Silver Drops and, read in isolation, they recall a bizarre philosophy test. Yet that problem is made near irrelevant by Curtis’ vocals. Richer and more passionate than on the band’s debut, his singing makes the most ill-considered of lines a thing of heartbroken beauty. Equally melancholic and skilled is the musicianship; the Curtises and Garza hold their own, for example, in the company of The Band’s Garth Hudson, whose accordion-playing graces the lament ”I Want to Know.” From Benjamin’s perfectly layered guitar wailing on ”Lightning Blue Eyes” to Brandon’s goosebump-inducing vocals on ”1,000 Seconds,” this is an album that delivers with the force of Garza’s titanic Bonhamesque drum thwacks. It also offers further proof that what may at first seem like bad luck for an artist can ultimately be good news for everyone.