Secret Machines Content To Keep Things Small

Before there was the Polyphonic Spree, there was Tripping Daisy. Spree mastermind Tim DeLaughter led the latter band through four albums of Technicolor euphoria during the grungified '90s. Even back then, recalls Secret Machines guitarist-vocalist (and one-time Daisy drummer) Ben Curtis, DeLaughter was talking about his vision of a band the size of the cast for Jesus Christ Superstar.

"He kind of wanted to make Tripping Daisy that way, with rotating members and whoever wanted to be part of it," says Curtis, reached on his cellphone while walking down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. "He approached me about being in Polyphonic Spree, but I just wasn't interested in joining that sort of crew. I've never been much for joining a gang. I can deal with two other guys--that's basically my limit."

Those two other guys are Curtis's brother, Brandon, on keyboards and bass, and Josh Garza on drums, and together they make up the Secret Machines. The Texans landed in New York a few years ago after a brief sojourn in Chicago, where they recorded a debut EP. It received rave reviews and marked the band as one to watch, an expectation that has been fulfilled with its first full-length, Now Here Is Nowhere. An old-fashioned, mind-blowing rock record sprinkled with chunky riffs, classic-sounding melodies, and motorifik beats, the disc finds common ground between U.K. post-punk tripsters Spiritualized and mid-'70s Pink Floyd.

Both the snarky, slinky "Sad and Lonely" and the shimmering Sonic Youth stomp of "Nowhere Again" make the listener stop short with their sharp, melodic hooks and punchy choruses. Even though those two tracks stand out, the disc has the feel of one long, organic composition. Instrumental motifs constantly appear, and the tunes segue into each other without pause.

"A lot of our songs grew out of each other that way," says Curtis, here with the Machines to open up for Interpol at the Commodore on Saturday (October 23). "So we just wanted to represent that on the record. It's just trying to represent what we do live. Once we start playing we don't stop. Once we stop, it's the end. There's not a lot of in-between-song banter or comedy."

The music on Now Here Is Nowhere also has an exciting visual element. Spacey instrumentation brings to mind the glory days of black-light posters and planetarium laser-light shows. The cover shot is of a room filled with guitars, amps, and drums, all painted white for a milky, sterile 2001: A Space Odyssey effect. Live, Secret Machines have performed backlit so that the band members are seen mostly in silhouette. And the trio has transported its arty space rock to a unique gallery: the Chinati Foundation, a Marfa, Texas, institution dedicated to permanent, large-scale installations.

"They have an open house every year," Curtis says. "We played there for the first time maybe three years ago and set up in the centre of this room, and everyone showed up, from Farmer Joe and his family to Dieter the art snob from Berlin, and all in the middle of fucking nowhere. The altitude is the same as Denver, but it's perfectly flat. We keep going back; we're kind of the after-party rock band. For some reason our music makes a lot of sense surrounded by empty space."

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