These are the last two albums in my top 11 of 2008. I should have more to say on Dad Horse, but I’m tapped for right now. I’ll probably revisit it later this year.
The Dad Horse Experience “Too Close to Heaven”
I don’t usually like novelty music, and when I first heard The Dad Horse Experience, I thought it was a joke and nearly skipped past it. A simple description – German guy plays twisted gospel murder ballads on banjo and kazoo – makes it sound just about as unappetizing as a record can be. Something in the music made me listen a little longer, though, and I realized that this is, in fact, a brilliant album. Dad Horse Ottn, who supposedly started playing music at the age of 40 (though I don’t know how much of his story is true and how much is fabricated showmanship), sings songs of sin and redemption and then more sin, for good measure. The music deconstructs old-time gospel folk, updating it and mixing it with folk German sounds and modern melodies. At times I can almost hear a Violent Femmes sort of voice peeking through. Through it all, Ottn’s pleas for redemption and the tales of why he needs to be saved give the album a bizarre, hallucinatory character that makes this by far the most original record I’ve heard this year.
The Secret Machines “Secret Machines”
In 2004, The Secret Machines released their debut long player “Now Here is Nowhere,” fifty minutes of thudding, head-nodding rhythms and spaced-out electric guitar and organ texture. It is wonderfully crafted album, sitting just on the psych-pop side of stoner rock, leaning away from the more metal, Sabbath-influenced style. If I smoked dope, that album would probably provide the soundtrack more than just about any other.
They followed “Nowhere” with “Ten Silver Drops,” an album that lost some of the edge and repetition of the first album in favor of more radio-friendly, more focused songs. Influences not heard on the previous album began to shine through, with scraps of “Joshua Tree”-era U2 floating in and out. Though it features some of their very best songs, like “Daddy’s in the Doldrums” and “I Hate Pretending,” I missed the simpler rhythmic style of the first album.
With their eponymous third full length, the first missing guitarist Ben Curtis, The Secret Machines have split the difference between the earlier two records. Keeping the more polished production and bigger textures of “Ten Silver Drops,” the band has also brought back some of the driving simplicity of the first album. Bowie, U2, Pink Floyd and Zepplin all find voice at various points in the songs, but the album never sounds derivative. The record, like their others, is timeless, fitting alongside the best rock music of the last four decades. The departure of a founding member is always cause for concern for fans of a band, but here The Secret Machines have proven that they can still make a top notch album.