Secret Machines

Now Here is Nowhere

(Warner; 2004)

By Chet Betz | 8 November 2007

Musical moments that never happened, aborted before they were conceived, are trapped in an unknown layer of the world’s atmosphere and then condensed into droplets that fall and run through the grand canon of music and collect in that place where the Secret Machines stand, Now Here is Nowhere.

In an alternate timeline that failed to meet fruition, the Newsboys made their magnum opus under the tutelage of Fridmann; they crafted an album of endless hooks and a bounce that brought a true shine to their contemporary Christian chrome domes. A fragment of this lost work’s sound can still be felt in Now Here is Nowhere. The album that U2 didn’t make when they made Pop has found its way into Nowhere Land. Grandaddy’s inferior sequel to “Underneath the Weeping Willow” survives mostly intact as “The Leaves Are Gone.” The Flaming Lips released an EP of material between The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi that no one will hear, but part of it lives on in Nowhere Land. Mercury Rev and Sparklehorse forgotten B-sides flit in the air above. The river’s made of tears that Pink Floyd never cried.

Around the stars of Nowhere’s skies are synthesized nebulae that This Mortal Coil could not contain, and they sparkle in Fraser’s eyes. In the ground thuds a booming drum and bass that Mogwai could not unearth, a resounding groove that shakes Fripp from the trees. He falls with a rain of dew and a kick ass guitar solo. Here’s some My Bloody Valentine fuzz that didn’t get used. There’s the echo and reverb that would have taken disco out of the flashing dance bars and into gleaming crystal caves.

Surrounded by the wraiths of potential pop-rock minutes and seconds, the Secret Machines plug into their power source and inhale ghouls like Ghostbusters. The machines rattle and then release the energy output. The drum hits. The bass rips. The guitar riffs. The keyboard trips “First Wave Intact” into verves that climb up spines into minds that start sparking. “The rest is theft” speaks as the instruments momentarily drop out and then flip back in with ninjitsu levels of precision impact.

And this vacuum setting of complete sweeping efficiency is maintained by the Secret Machines as they transform possibilities into powerful realities. “Sad and Lonely” soars on gorgeous guitars and vocals, alternative rock single material that could kill the 90s one-hit wonder songs that eke out their existence as MP3’s of nostalgia on so many hard drives. “Nowhere Again” stands by its side with a sharp bob ready to bludgeon that Primitive Radio Gods track with the ungodly long title.

“Road Leads Where It’s Led” reminds Bono of what he once wanted to be. Lyrically and musically, Wayne Coyne feels simultaneously flattered and upstaged by “Pharaoh’s Daughter” and “You Are Chains.” It’s surprising that Interpol’s own emulation of influences did not produce the dark “Lights On.” The Secret Machines choke for a moment before spitting out the last nine minute chunk of music, the rather unnecessary blob of a title track that contains bits of the aural meal already served.

Despite the magnificence of the sound and music, the recycling process is still that of machines, and their manufacturing feels a little hollow and cold. What might be emotion rarely peeps through the dense sonic tapestry. Perhaps it’s there in “You Are Chains” and “Sad and Lonely,” or perhaps that emotion is a clever simulation or an altered reproduction. Do the machines have their own soul that they have not borrowed and amalgamated from the specters of the imagination? But whose imagination is it that has produced these raw materials if not the imagination of the machines themselves? Perhaps therein lies their secret, and it is that secret that allows the machines to make nowhere a here… to make something worth making through grasping at forsaken dreams.