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The Secret Machines
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Written by Matthew Boyd


Opposite Photo: Brandon Curtis

The Secret Machines are finally in the place they want to be. With the departure of Ben Curtis, the guitars’ saws seem to cut harder, the drums insist through the mix more clearly top of focus and in a syncopation that is a more fervent and unique homage to Klaus Dinger’s “Apache” beat than it ever was before, and vocalist, guitarist, and keyboardist Brandon Curtis’ glam-inspired voice has a lot fewer layers of sound to contend with loitering in the registers it calls home. Now out in support of their third full-length, which they released on their own TSM Records, and just off a tour, the band has let no opportunity pass to clear their obstacles. They can safely display the influences they’ve made their own without falling into the feared and overused critical mantrap of being accused of derivation. This is a great band that has put out a great record and is putting on fantastic shows.

Brandon Phil Karnats and Brandon Curtis
The Secret Machines

TSM had just finished up a tour of the West Coast and Canada with the Dears and Small Sins before they made their top-of-form pit stop Tuesday November 18 at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. They demonstrated that they are well-prepared, ahead of their upcoming late November dates opening for Oasis in Mexico, to play their deadly serious take on Kraut and Psych whatever size the crowd.

They took care to regale the assembled with bright highlights from their earlier catalog, a definite stand-out being their rendition late in the set of the 2006 “Ten Silver Drops” single Nowhere Again, but by and large were committed to the much moodier, that is in no way to say less energetic, material from this year’s self-titled “Secret Machines.”

In point of fact, TSM today is a band reinvented. They are a band whose members, measured individually, have, to date, each amassed a monumental legacy of creative output that will stand as peaks in the sonogram of pop music history. However, rather than resting on their laurels, they have chosen to push ahead to earn their place as one of the hardest-working bands in rock and roll.

Roberto Bolaño, in his 1999 acceptance speech for the Venezuelan Rómulo Gallegos Prize for the best Spanish-language novel of the year, said (quoted here from Francisco Goldman’s July ’07 article in the New York Review of Books),

“Although I also know that it’s true that a writer’s country isn’t his language or isn’t only his language… There can obviously be many countries, it occurs to me now, but only one passport, and obviously that passport is the quality of the writing. Which doesn’t mean just to write well, because anybody can do that, but to write marvelously well, though not even that, because anybody can do that too. Then what is writing of quality? Well, what it’s always been: to know how to thrust your head into the darkness, know how to leap into the void, and to understand that literature is basically a dangerous calling.”
The same can be said of other artistic endeavors, of music.

Having built a new and better band out of the uncertainty of a founding member’s departure, having surpassed the challenges that leaving their label this past year raised, and having gone on the road with a great new album and spectacular chops, The Secret Machines have proven they can admit that art is a dangerous calling and stamp their passport “challenges met.” As Algren said of the uncertainty of being really committed to your craft in the creative racket, “It’s a hardy trade, Joe, with a boot as quick as a fiver.”

For the show they put on in Brooklyn on that first really cold night of the year, TSM gets the fiver.

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