by Rachel Brame –
For a Portland band who’s been around since the early 90’s I’ll admit I’ve taken advantage of their everlasting presence on the scene but rarely dove deep into their catalogue. In my recent awakening of their 8th studio album my eyes opened to their eclectic sensibilities which are abundantly represented on This Machine. Typically, the Dandy Warhol’s are more of a straightforward catchy band, but This Machine is notably different from the rest in the mix over their long career. Its nature themed surrealistic still life cover art is also quite thought-provoking. If you look hard enough you can tease out a figure playing guitar through the placement of the strategically placed owl in flight, a rather large antler entangling the neck of the perfectly angled instrument resting on a stump, down to the tin can with a Dandy Warhol’s sticker (and obvious Peel Slowly And See reference) resting in the dense foliage at a jaunty angle. The sparse pine trees in the foreground and peaceful scenic mountain background only adds to the extreme juxtaposition against the album’s title.
The End Records released this Dandy Warhol’s unique unconformity in April 2012 which spans a wide variety of genres from song to song over 43 minutes. Each tune is completely independent of the next, with Courtney Taylor-Taylor on vocals/guitar, Peter Holmstrom on guitar/bass, Brent DeBoer on drums, and Zia McCabe on keyboards. After exploring their multifaceted depth to each of the 11 songs on this album, I really feel the best way to describe it all is through some seriously illustrative analogizing.
So here is my severely cross-referenced analysis: Opening strongly, the first track “Sad Vacation” goes heavy on the reverb and reminds me of Yo La Tengo’s 2006 release I Am Not Afraid Of You And Will Beat Your Ass. “Autumn Carnival” lyrically wanders around but brings in guest bassist from Bauhaus David J. Haskins who lays down a post-grungy beat a la Garbage 2.0 and strums riffs similar to Chrissie Hynde’s later 2014 single “Dark Sunglasses”. Track numero trois “Enjoy Yourself” takes on a Krautrock-ish tone. In my twisted brain this is what Interpol would sound like if it tried playing more vibrant pop tunes. “Alternative Power To The People” has an up-tempo punky rhythm interjected with glitchy distortion. It harkens back to classic 90’s electronica and could very well fit on Prodigy’s Fat of the Land. Sung in a soft whispered tone, “Well They’re Gone” has a haunting quality about it with a kick of a carnival beat and harmonic twang. “Rest Your Head” has a psychedelic sunny shoe-gazer sound to it with the DeBoer and McCabe joining in on some nice harmonies.
After hearing them covering Merle Travis’s “16 Tons” for the first time I swore I was listening to Mark Sandman resurrected! What the Dandy’s pull off with this one is EXACTLY how Morphine would sound covering Brian Stetzer. Upbeat and liberating, “I Am Free” breaks out a vivacious horn section which naturally brings my mind back to hearing the crisp fresh brass of the Beatles “Penny Lane”. The next track “SETI vs. The Wow! Signal” is best described as a pop-esque space age themed freak out jam with crunchy guitars and lyrically on par with the Heartworms on their classic Space Escapade. Rounding out the end of the record “Don’t Shoot She Cried” is a slow psychedelic dreamscape while their last track “Slide” is pure hazy grunge akin to Radiohead circa 1994-98. This Machine gives me flashbacks to the few heavier tracks off Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea like “Ghost” and “Holland 1945”.
Overall, it’s an entertaining assortment of unconventional songs, and, in my opinion, each is worthy of earning one of those novel VU stickers from the front cover.