At last, the long-awaited second album from LA indie rockers The Distortions is finally here. And it's already being hailed as "one of the standout records of the year so far".
"Machines at Night" begins where the first record left off, but quickly speeds off to places unknown yet familiar, like a dreamy road trip through your own head. Sparkling guitar layers, tambourines, sleigh bells, lush backing vocals, walls of fuzz, haunting Theremin, primitive drums and hypnotic bass are merely the vehicles here; what drives them are the ten darkly hopeful & brightly cynical songs, written, arranged and recorded in their downtown LA rehearsal room. The new CD was painstakingly produced by Distortions frontman F, and engineered by Colin Studybaker, known for his work with various Sub Pop acts, including Iron & Wine and Holopaw.
The hard-to-categorize Machines at Night was never an attempt to fit into any particular genre or style. While the density and spaciousness of its shimmering layers suggest some sort if indie/shoegaze hybrid, it's unprecedented use of gothic pedal steel and variety of Theremin voices (all performed by F) immediately pull this record into somewhat uncharted territory. Where descriptions are necessary, this music could reasonably be described as Galaxie 500 on acid.
The Distortions was formed in 2004 by guitarist/vocalist F and bassist Michael Scott. Soon after, the band released its debut album "Exploding Teenage Body Part" on its own label, Blank Recordings. Music journalists routinely used adjectives like shimmering minimalist dreamy sweeping fuzz-bliss glittering post-rock to describe the album's sound. The CD got tons of college radio airplay, and it was even aired in its entirety one afternoon in Los Angeles on KXLU's "The record *YOU* need to know about".
In summer 2005, the band teamed up with LA indie darlings Helen Stellar for a Northwest US tour, sharing a van and co-headlining nightly in cities between San Francisco, Boise, and Seattle.
It was after this tour that the band began the 18 month journey that led to the release of "Machines at Night". Regarding the need to make this particular record, F explains "The boredom, dull pain, and sheer filth of life has a sound to it. And to me, paradoxically, it all sounds strangely beautiful. For some reason, I see it as my job to mirror that in a musical way. I guess that's why I have to use all these difficult instruments and exact rhythms to capture that sound. If I don't get it perfectly, it's just useless and pointless. I felt like now was the time to finally do it right. With this new record, it feels like we actually got it right".
Here's what Post-Punk.com wrote about "Machines at Night":
L.A. based band The Distortions have just released the album that you are going to be playing in your car all year for every one of those long breezy trips out of town and short excursions driving through the city at night. For that reason it is no coincidence that this album is titled “Machines At Night”.
With “Machines At Night”, The Distortions have released a remarkably subtle and nuanced album that effortlessly dispels any notions of the sophomore slump with such restrained & reflective cool that too many bands in the indie scene these days wish they had but fail to find for their follow up.
Though not a bad album in its own right, The Distortions first album “Exploding Teenage Body Part” was somewhat uneven. When comparing songs like the blistering punk fury of the title track to the more dreamy shimmer of a song like “Shoegazer”, I felt like the band was being drawn in two different directions and could not fully commit to one. Such is certainly not the case with “Machines At Night”. Where the previous effort felt like a collection of random songs, “Machines At Night” feels like a true album in the classic sense of the term.
Every facet of this album is ten notches above and beyond its predecessor. The songs on this album meander from a delicate intro into an otherworldly crescendo while others just drift by in a dreamy pace all accompanied by soul-searching lyrics that reflect on those unrealized promises that life makes us and the broken ones that we make in turn everyday. Whether its on the aptly titled song, ‘This place doesn't have the balls to kill me’ where singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist F sings, “I’m looking good / but hurt to touch, I’m so alone / much too much, I’m feeling good / but sometimes ache, from those who love / but love to take” or on “Galaxies rearranging” where he softly serenades the lines “I can see me crushing under thoughts of what's to come / I wonder if I got a soul no one could ever want / I think of losing everything and living in the street / I think of how the bad I’ve done is closing in on me / and then I think of you / I think of you / and from the chaos comes something new”. Words like these bring a sincerity and depth to this album that you connect with immediately. Its personal but universal.
As good as the songs are themselves and the poetry of the lyrics, it is in the musicianship/instrumentation that the true accomplishment and beauty of this record really shine through the brightest. The Guitars sparkle, the Drums rumble, the Bass hypnotizes, Voices ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’, Tambourines shake, the Glockenspiel chimes, the Pedal Steel wails and the Theremin moans all over this album. What is even more impressive is to see someone take such an obscure instrument that possesses such a unique sound as the Theremin does and use it in a tastefully artistic and specific way as multi-instrumentalist F does on songs like “Galaxies rearranging” and “Waiting for the searchlights to come”.
Though alot of us may not be old enough to remember, there was such a time when music was not about bands having only one good song that you downloaded for 99 cents while the rest of the album was pretty much ignored. In this day and age of MP3 players and shuffled play lists, ‘Machines At Night’ stands in complete defiance of the idea that bands can’t create an album of 10 songs that are every bit just as good as the other and flow perfectly from one song to the next. From beginning to end, The Distortions have succeeded in evoking a larger and greater experience that having only one good song can’t even begin to compare with. It is for the lack of albums like this that the record industry’s sales are at an all-time low.
As equally haunting as it is calming, much of what you will hear on this album will sound familiar; though at the same time strike you as something you will not necessarily know how to categorize. It is that sense of hearing something that you’re so accustomed to feel so strange & foreign that summarizes not only what this album is about but also what makes it so good. The Distortions have truly stepped up with what can easily be considered one of the standout records of the year so far, and it stands to set them among some of their greatest peers like Doves & Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Records of Reference:
Beachwood Sparks – Once We Were Trees
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Howl
Doves – The Last Broadcast
The Verve – Storm In Heaven