I was excited about this record. I'm not familiar with the Secret Machines' previous albums, but in 2004 I saw them open for Interpol, fresh off their then-newly released Antics. Interpol was wonderful, still one of the most primally energetic shows I've seen, and the Secret Machines ethereal space-rock set the stage perfectly. Their cover of Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" remains one of the most surprising (and surprisingly good) show moments I've experienced.
So, why the low (-ish) score, you ask? Perhaps these guys' music is just that much better live, because this is certainly very atmospheric music. While perhaps not quite so spacy as the (far superior, in my opinion) Sigur Ros, the Secret Machines don't play music to get you dancing or pumped up; this is music you close your eyes to, and allow to move you any way that it decides to. This is usually quite an overwhelming feeling in hearing a live show… however, on record, one runs the risk of boring one's listeners, if there's not enough substance to the music. It seems that this is the pitfall to which the Secret Machines fall prey on Ten Silver Drops.
Admittedly, saying that a certain music "doesn't have enough substance" is a rather superficial critique; surely minimalism can create good music. Indeed, the aforementioned Sigur Ros are surely masters of this. The problem here is that Sigur Ros is both spacy and immediately emotional; the Secret Machines are, for the most part, just spacy. "Alone, Jealous, And Stoned," the first single of the album, perhaps resists this critique, but the rest of these songs create no real emotional impact. They mostly rely on a simple, pulsing drum beat that doesn't give a sense of urgency to the music, and the guitar and piano melodies seem to be played with more bombast than they are worth, giving off the sense that the Secret Machines are taking themselves a bit more seriously than they ought. The lengthy dirge, "Daddy's in the Doldrums," is probably the best example of all this… it is interminably boring, never creates any anticipation, and just slowly kills itself with its plodding beat.
The Secret Machines certainly have potential… this album, though largely a failure, is not bad, and with a little more immediate emotional appeal and better melodies, theirs could be a quality music. Lead singer Brandon Curtis has a very interesting voice, which guitarist Ben Curtis harmonizes quite well with, and, really, the sound of this music is intriguing, but right now the content can't catch up with the idea.