If a band is going to release a self-titled album, it’s usually the band’s debut. If it’s the band’s third album, it’s a sign that the band is trying to reinvent itself. Secret Machines did just that this year with their third album, which was also the first since guitarist-vocalist Ben Curtis left and was replaced by Phil Karnats. That’s not an insignificant change for a three-piece, especially considering that Curtis’s brother, bassist-vocalist Brandon Curtis, is still in the band. It’s also the first album on the band’s own TSM label imprint after they parted ways with the major label Reprise. So there’s a whole lot of reinvention going on here behind the scenes.
The music itself, however, is the same mix of Zeppelin, Floyd, kraut rock, and indie that we’ve come to expect. The songs are maybe a little more tightly structured than they used to be, but the songs aren’t as important here as the sounds. Secret Machines always proudly described their style as “space rock,” and they can certainly come up with some unearthly racket. On the new album, the guitars are twisted and tweaked through so many electronic effects that it’s hard to tell them from the synths. And Josh Garza’s drums sound like John Bonham smashing planets in half.
But that’s just the studio version, and Secret Machines is a band that makes a lot more sense on stage. I don’t know why that is. It’s not just the visuals (the stage set, from the pictures I’ve seen, looks amazing on this tour). I guess space rock just needs the kind of space that only a live setting can provide.
SECRET MACHINES, Belly Up, Saturday, November 1, 9 p.m. 858-481-8140. $20 advance; $22 door.