2020 is The Year of the Reanimated Musician (see also: X, Brandy, Bright Eyes, Mr. Bungle, Hum, and many more). So, it’s Secret Machines, Awake in the Brain Chamber, but the big question remains: is it any good? For that matter: who are the Secret Machines, anyway? That query, as well, is understandable, considering their last studio release was in 2008, just before a spot of tragedy.
When a band loses a member, particularly a founder, it can create a point of no return. When Benjamin Curtis worked with School of Seven Bells, all the while in treatment for cancer, the Secret Machines went dormant. After he passed, it seemed there was no such thing as the Secret Machines, nor was anything called Awake in The Brain Chamber even as much as a dream.
We return to our original question: is it any good?
As luck would have it, Awake in the Brain Chamber is quite good. Many saw their 2008 self-titled release as a failure, perhaps crushed under the weight of Ten Silver Drops and Now Here is Nowhere, a staggering one-two punch as far as debuts go, placing the Secret Machines in the mix with bands like Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Strokes, and the many indie-rock luminaries and now-legends of that time. With the tides shifting closer to the emo wave of the mid-00s, the Secret Machines got more than a little lost in the shuffle. In fact, shuffle, or a random playlist on your platform of choice might be the place that made you go “What the heck is a Secret Machines?” or “Hey, “First Wave Intact” really was a good song!” Then, back into the shadow realm!
“Talos’ Corpse”, the single-of-sorts from Awake in the Brain Chamber, was maybe an ill choice for a hook. It comes in third on the album, which is a perfect place to sequence it. “3, 4, 5, Let’s Stay Alive” comes in with the Secret Machines’ secret (or not-so-secret, depending on what stands out to you in music) weapon: thunderous drums straight from the heart and arms of a caveman. One of the Secret Machines’ greatest fingerprints is their drumming, and Awake in the Brain Chamber holds no exception. They also tend to have very front-loaded albums; this one is sequenced just a skosh better than its predecessors. “Dreaming is Alright” makes a great second track, but it clears the way for “Talos’ Corpse” and the vibe-heavy “Everything’s Under” and “Everything Starts”.
The album’s standout is “Angel Come”. The drums move just a little further back in the mix (until they don’t), and the vocals go full-psychedelic. The Secret Machines are nothing if not consistent, and this track would not be out of place on those magical debut albums. It lands at the top of the closing trifecta and sets a great tone for the strong, forward-moving tracks that follow.
A Secret Machines album usually sports a track over the six minute mark (even opening with them), and this breaks the trend by not containing a track longer than five minutes. It may make longtime fans a little sad, but it works very well, and gives the band, with Awake in the Brain Chamber, something they never quite had: an album friendly toward new listeners. Jump in; the water’s trippy.