Dandy Warhols - This Machine
Record Label: The End Records
Release Date: April 24, 2012
At some point in time music historians are going to look to the Pacific Northwest and remember a great many things. Foremost of these is the Seattle grunge movement and the likes of bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, among others.
A few hours south of Seattle is the less-heralded but equally important city of Portland. These days, this fertile breeding ground is overflowing with new talent, but nearly two decades ago, the city's indie pioneers included just a few, foremost of which were the late Eliott Smith and the rock quartet The Dandy Warhols. While Smith will certainly be remembered fondly for being taken far too soon, one has to wonder, will the same be said for the Warhols? Now, nearly two decades into a career they probably never dreamed would last this long, The Dandy Warhols are still carving out albums and still doing their damnedest to make art, in any way shape or form.
This Machine is their ninth album and first on Brooklyn-based label The End. Vocalist and co-founder Courtney Taylor-Taylor has gone on record as admitting that This Machine is more stripped down than previous efforts and also far grungier. And those very points are elucidated on the scuzzy and bass-heavy "Sad Vacation," which kicks with fiery passion from the very first second. While it is definitely grunge-inspired, it is indubitably indelible and is accented by some searing guitar work from Peter Holmstrom.
The disc's first true pinnacle moment is the hazy "The Autumn Carnival," in which Taylor-Taylor sings in a low murmur and sounds utterly haunting. Though its probably a bit too early for something this creepy to infiltrate the album, it's a solid cut and a definite standout. On the beefy and self-indulgent "Enjoy Yourself," the quartet sounds downright silly and mediocre. Point blank, The Dandy Warhols are a far better band than "Enjoy Yourself," illustrates and why this song even made the record is anyone's guess.
The near three-minute instrumental "Alternative Power to the People," is a scuzzy and delightful sonic head trip that darts and spins with ease. While it's a bit curious to put an instrumental so early on an eleven song disc, the song's delightful frolic puts the curiosity to bed off after the first minute.
On the spartan "Well They're Gone," the group offers up arguably one of their best songs they've ever written. Slow-moving, calculating and nary a flaw, it's a gorgeous dusty ballad that says and does everything without doing too much. It's an age-old lesson that only a band of polished veterans could pull off. And it is at this very moment that This Machine catapults forward and turns into something truly awesome. The chiming "Rest Your Head," is a hybrid of "Sad Vacation," and "The Autumn Carnival," and quite frankly is just fabulous. Featuring shimmering guitars, a steady rhythm section and an amiable mid-tempo chorus. If the song fails to make an impression, then This Machine probably isn't the album for you.
The jaunty "16 Tons," is a bit blustery and self-indulgent, but unlike "Enjoy Yourself," the band seems at ease and in the pocket. And that fact is carried over on the blissful, free-wheeling "I Am Free," a horn-laden affair that's buoyant, harmonic and absolutely riveting. This Machine moves forward with "SETI vs. The Wow Signal," a silly and somewhat careless mess that would probably collapse upon itself had the prior eight songs not been so strong. That it doesn't is a testament to the band's strengths, foremost of which is knowing when to not get too carried away.
Penultimate cut "Don't Shoot She Cried," is a languorous six-minute instrumental that snakes along with delicate precision, and makes for a listen that is both captivating and creepy. Though murmured voices are heard over the song's final three minutes, it ostensibly an instrumental. And a damn fine one at that. This Machine ends with "Slide," which piggybacks the sonic landscape of "The Autumn Carnival," and "Don't Shoot She Cried," and takes it even farther. If a final track is supposed to be a conclusion or exclamation point, then "Slide," is as good as any released this year.
What is most inspiring about This Machine is that in an era when musicians seem hell-bent on studio gimmicks and viral YouTube videos, The Dandy Warhols have lasted nearly two decades just by being themselves: original, forward-thinking and deeply committed to their craft. With a record this charming, one can only hope they last two more decades.