Tuesday, 14 May 2013

The Machine & Sungrazer split (album review)

Fantastic cover artwork by Maarten Donders
I discovered The Machine a year ago when I picked up their superlative 'Calmer Than You Are' album.  I became hypnotized by the distinctive busy hi-hat drumming of Davy Boogaard.  Add in some awesome riffs and the clean but strong vocals of David Eering (who produced both sides of the record) and the gravitational heaviness of bassist Hans van Heemst and the band becomes a stoned funk monster.  I had known of Sungrazer and probably heard one or two of their songs somewhere along the way, but this split was my first time really diving into the band.  Here's what I thought of the split.

The Machine kicks things off with a ten minute wallop of fuzz, funk and spacey grooves.  The band lets their spirits wander free on this jam in a way that feels looser and yet more organized than the extended jams on 'Calmer Than You Are'.  Because the band would latch onto a groove and repeat a phrase seemingly endlessly on 'Calmer', this ten minute track feels shorter than the eight minute tracks on that album because there seems to be more variation, more textural exploration, more paving of riff roads to different places.  The song is called "Awe" and that's as good a title as one can come up with to describe this megalithic monstrosity.  One can only stare in slack jawed wonder as wave after wave of groove washes over the listener.  "Not Only" is a shorter, punkier number that picks up the pace and sprints towards The Machine's big finish.

A fuzz crowned sunshine riff pours forth from a split open cactus, "Slipface" is pure desert rock.  The fuzz is dry, the groove is hot and there's no shade in sight.  The only respite comes in the form of the watery vocals which speak of aquatic subjects.  The ultimate tease.  Three minutes into the track, night falls, campfire sparks dance among the stars and the listener is treated to an extended wah caked solo atop understated tribal drum fills which fill out the shadows with fearful wonder.  Seven minutes or so in to this nearly 11 minute song the listener is treated to the first hints of alarm.  There's something lurking within and distorting the shadows.  Danger of all dangers, it's actually the sun, threatening to end this most perfect of nights and offer another day of hard desert trials.  Heat mirages dance upon the horizon as the sun claims another victim.  If this were simply a three song EP from The Machine alone and the night were to end there, I would be more than satisfied.  But Sungrazer is up next, and Machine couldn't possibly have proven a tougher act to follow.

Sungrazer pilots a fuzz zeppelin which explodes as in a dream on their first offering "Dopo".  Burning embers fall lazily from the sky but the listener doesn't much mind.  The track ends on an otherworldly discordant harmony a la Alice in Chains.  It's something I'm hearing more and more of these days, bit by bit, and to be perfectly honest with you, I can't get enough of it.  This close harmony spills over into the Sungrazer's second cut, "Yo La Tengo" which has a very laid back Buffalo Springfield feel to it while swirling chords reach back from the present like tentacles to pull the listener under.  The listener is able to get his head above water to witness the chaotic scene of psychedelic riffage above the surface before plunging back down to the serenity of the welcoming depths.

Sungrazer comes closest to The Machine in terms of sound, specifically from the 'Calmer ...' album on final track "Flow Through a Good Story" which means it might have made more sense to open Sungrazer's side with it.  Then again, it might have been too samey and the band might have lost its own identity in the process.  Either way, the song finds a perfect home on this split.  Fuzz riffs that bend upwards like daredevil ramps off which the listener jumps into the waiting arms of groove.  The calmness and almost lackadaisical nature of the vocals during all this madness makes for a really intense atmosphere.  (Remember that technique kids, it's a good one)

Overall, Sungrazer's half of the split is less sun-baked, about a billion times calmer than Machine were and more psychedelic as a general rule.  Especially trippy is Rutger Smeets' six string noise maker as it explores more otherworldly environments than a Star Wars picture.  Both bands acquit themselves quite well by refining their own distinctive sounds.  Is there a clash between tracks three and four?  Perhaps, but that's why the devil invented the second side of a vinyl disc.  To cleanse the musical palate before flipping it over.  As one with only the digital files, I go out for a smoke during the intermission.  It was always going to be like that, these are distinctly different sounding bands and that's really the beauty of this thing.  Two sounds colliding on a single disc, coming together as a single entity.

Highlights include: "Awe" and "Flow Through a Good Story"

Rating: 4.5/5

Total Run Time: 47:23

The Machine is:                                                                       Sungrazer is:
Davy Boogaard – Drums                                                         Hans Mulders - Drums
Hans van Heemst – Bass                                                         Sander Haagmans – Bass/Vocals
David Eering - Guitar/Vocals                                                   Rutger Smeets – Guitar/Vocals

From: Rotterdam (The Machine); Maastricht, Valkenburg, Puth (Sungrazer), Netherlands

Genre: Psychedelic, Stoner

Reminds me of: Buffalo Springfield, Kyuss

Release Date: February 14, 2013

Suggested listening activity for fellow non-stoners: Communing with the cosmic coyote ...

Better Reviews:
The Soda Shop
Sputnik Music
Rock Freaks

Sungrazer interview for Not Another Music Blog about the split

The Machine official website
Sungrazer official website
The Machine on Facebook
Sungrazer Facebook

**Special thanks to Cosmic Lava for introducing me to The Machine

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