Live is Goodby Grant Moser
GIRL HARBOR / SECRET MACHINES
“we’re each of us our own forgotten sons”
Unless you’ve been cryogenically frozen, you can’t have missed all the hype about the garage rock scene that has suddenly exploded. Rock has returned with a vengeance and the bad-boy, raw, elemental, sweaty sound is everywhere—a bright comet illuminating the drab and plastic music landscape of today.
Or something like that.
Of course, if you live in Brooklyn or have at least a passing interest in local bands, garage rock isn’t all that new; it’s just the national spotlight that is.
I caught Girl Harbor at Luxx’s Williamsburg on a Wednesday night. While sporting the standard suits and ties and disheveled haircuts, their energy seemed a cut above the more produced sound I’ve been hearing lately on the radio. That also seems to be their CD’s biggest downfall—it’s not live. That sound is missing, though the energy is not.
Shine On showcases five songs, and all are different, and all pretty much rock. “Boys in Heat” is pure testosterone with a Van Halen-esque feel to it. Its chorus is repeated a lot, and that and the rough beat behind it says all the song wants to. “Spring is in the Air” is a catchy driving rhythm with a very ’70s feel to it—the point in that music where the stripped-down rock began experimenting with some melodies while retaining its realness. “Sleeping to Drink” is the ballad, though it is a twisted melodramatic Ziggy Stardust and Built to Spill-sounding song about being in the bottom of a bottle. It is a full-on, bleeding hearts, lonely-drunk tune that ends in a nice damnation of sound. “Riff City” is by far the best song on the CD and is so damn groovy. Its lyrics are imaginative and perfect. “Shine On” is a bit more speed-driven with sparse in-between bass lines and the chorus is well developed.
But enough about the CD. Their live show is where the money is at. Loose and disjointed with an underlying cohesion, the band is very club-friendly and plays well to an audience. The sound produces an emotion in you and that’s always good. It makes you want to scream along.
“the whole worlds gets weak”
Secret Machines’s September 000 is a masterpiece. There are remnants here of Pink Floyd, the harmonies and experiment of Kid A and Amnesiac, and even the Stone Roses come to mind. But really it is Brian Eno who figures most heavily in their work. This CD is well done, but the live show is bombastic and subtle and beautiful.
Playing at North Six on a Saturday night, Secret Machines took the stage in total darkness before switching on bright lights underneath themselves. Then they proceeded to put on one hell of a show. The set was staged as one continuous song, punctuated with ambient music, mystery, and quixotic drum and bass. They were loud and aggressive. It felt like a war chant, a tribal rhythm, a wake-up call.
September 000 does not do their live show justice, but stands pretty well on its own. Consisting mainly of songs ranging from the six-minute mark to just a bit under three minutes, the CD is an investment of your time, but well worth it. It is quite possibly one of the finest crafted discs in a long time, especially considering the eccentricity and complexity of their music.
“Marconi’s Radio” begins with sparse tonal sounds with a slow (and I mean slow) building texture of layers, one upon the other. The vocals are meaningful and breathy, and this is the song that most reminds me of Floyd on the CD: “It’s hard to say nothing’s wrong when nothing’s changed / If God were here alone with me / I could say anything / I believe I can rest assured she’s quite the same.”
“What used to be French” is rhythmic doom interspersed with hope, a shifting quilt of sounds and melodies. “Breathe” is a low-key love ditty with a simple melody that incorporates a banging garage-surfy sounding chorus. “Still See You” is a guitar-picking intro with a sudden shift to an alternative beat and, yet again, that rich textured sound comes into play. And “It’s a Bad Wind” is a haunting song with hollow-sounding bells, slow keyboards, and a good use of silence.
Secret Machines likes to juxtapose and experiment with sound. From multi-layered sound walls that crash down on you to silent moments when the world is fragile and ready to crack, the band takes you along at their own speed and shows you what they think is important.
There’s no good reason these guys aren’t huge right now. Check out the CD and go see them live when you can. It is more than a performance; it is—to quote one of my favorite movies—a reckoning.
Grant Moser is an art writer and frequent contributing writer for the Brooklyn Rail.