Shedding much of the lo-fi aesthetic of past releases, Secret Message Machine’s 4th album sparkles and shines with crisp production, airy vocals, and thoughtful arrangements. Michael Barrett has been releasing music as Secret Message Machine for over five years, while at the same time playing in countless Subjective Collective projects, including Blank Blank. In the first few moments of hearing Barret’s deep vocals, you might be tempted to think: “This sounds like that guy from Smog”, or you could go the way of the Go Triad, saying that the vocals “echo Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields) with its organic melancholy tone and reverb”. But I don’t know about all of that. Barrett’s personality (and thus songwriting) is far from the smart-ass, sad clown schitck of Merritt, or the downtrodden slit-your-wrists stylings of Bill Callahan. “Giants, Madmen, and Ghosts” is a beautiful layered experience, expressing much more complicated thoughts and emtions than just everyone’s old pal melacholia.
Accompanied by Erik Chaplinsky (Summer Camp Casanova) and Chuck Chambers (Kaliedoscope Death), Barrett’s songs contain the best elements of singer/songwriter indie rock, with no cliches or tired sounds. Each track, although fronted by seemingly forlorn vocals, springs to life with intricately placed layers of bass, acoustic strumming, magical effects and rock guitar coming and going at just the right moments. The songwriting comes off in an extremely natural way, making the transistions from one song to the next easy, smooth, even ghostly—like, hey is this a different song, or a different part of the one before it? This album definitely has flow. Actually it flows so well, I’m always surprised when it’s over. With 11 songs, it clocks in just over 30 mins, proving that there’s never anything wrong with leaving the listener wanting more.
the opener “Insomnia” - busy drums, drone, slide guitar, backwards casio, --”We’re all Guitly! We’re all Crazy!” so good.
“Literary Criticism” - mostly acoustic -with some otherworldy effects laden violin playing.
“Ghosts” - haunting vocals, flowing rhythm, casio melody, ghostly.
“Greensboro” - peepy little piano ditty about a donut run. Apparently for Michael, Greensboro and sugar highs go hand in hand. Maybe I need to get with the program and visit Dunkin Donuts.
There’s not a bad song here. A must listen for fans of lo-fi, dyi, indie singer/songwriter stuff, in the vein of Sebadoh, Netural Milk Hotel, Summer Camp Casanova and Kaliedoscope Death
Download it here.
Visit Secret Message Machine on myspace, here.