THE SECRET MACHINES
"Now Here Is Nowhere"
"Go Get 'Em Tiger"
Upon the demise of Tripping Daisy, a slightly quirky Texas pop-punk band, its former members felt the need to do something big. Tim DeLaughter began the Polyphonic Spree, a "choral symphonic rock band," and Ben Curtis co-founded the Secret Machines, one of the new crop of punky prog bands.
Although it musters about 20 fewer members than the Spree, the Secret Machines' sound is sizable. The trio, which has relocated from Dallas to New York, opens its "Now Here Is Nowhere" with "First Wave Intact," a nine-minute thumper that sounds like the overture to an outer-space opera.
Such stately numbers have drawn comparisons to Pink Floyd, but the Machines are deliberately sparer than '60s and '70s prog-rockers. Curtis plays spacey keyboards, brother Brandon provides epic guitar and Josh Garza drums in a metronomic style that owes more to dance music than to the jazzy expansiveness of prog. "Nowhere Again" combines arena-rock dynamics and driving disco-punk beats, while the wispier sound of "Leaves Are Gone" suggests the alt-rock psychedelia of such bands as the Flaming Lips.
Double-disc concept albums may very well figure in the Secret Machines' future, but the band's debut strikes an admirable balance between punch and sweep.
Although it began as a one-man band, Mellowdrone expands to a quartet on its new EP, "Go Get 'Em Tiger." This L.A. outfit isn't exactly prog, but it won't sound out of place on a bill with the Secret Machines and the Fire Theft, another neo-prog act. Singer-guitarist-producer Jonathan Bates likes a surging chorus as much as any rock-opera composer, as he demonstrates with the opening "Bonemarrow." Accomplished but not especially distinctive, these six songs (including a throwaway closer) sacrifice some of their melodic appeal to prosaic, overstuffed arrangements. Bates needn't return to going it alone, but Mellowdrone's current sound would benefit from some judicious pruning.
-- Mark Jenkins
Appearing Monday at the Black Cat with the Fire Theft. * To hear a free Sound Bite from the Secret Machines, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8111; to hear Mellowdrone, press 8112. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)