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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
The Secret Machines
Now Here Is Nowhere
Reprise Records, Inc.

Rating: 6/10 ?

October 1, 2004
High expectations are not generally a good thing to have for pop culture. How often does a "highly anticipated" movie or album ever meet the hype and excitement that preceded it? For every Lord of the Rings or Kid A, there are a thousand Phantom Menaces. We're better off not really expecting anything, so at the very least we won't be let down too badly if something we had so looked forward to turns out to be only average, or worse. But we are nothing if not masochists, we purveyors of pop culture, so we go against our better judgment and get caught up in the hype.

Now Here Is Nowhere, the major label debut from New-York-by-way-of-Texas band The Secret Machines, comes along with all the hype one could expect. After all, they've been called "the best live band in New York" by several publications, a fact they themselves tout on their own web site. The comparisons they draw to other bands are intriguing - not just Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, but The Flaming Lips and My Bloody Valentine, too. Anyone who is a fan of space rock and psychedelica couldn't help but imagine the wonderful possibilities.

Then, of course, there is the novelty of the way they released the album - online first, with the physical copy not available until later in May. You can stream the entire album for free on their web site, or pay a small amount to download it whole - a risky proposition (though one that a Warner Bros. Records subsidiary like Reprise can comfortably take).

So, needless to say after all of this build-up, I was excited to listen to this album. And, I suppose it also goes without saying that it didn't really live up to what I expected.

This is not to say that Now Here Is Nowhere isn't a decent, even better than average, album. The first thing you notice is that the comparisons to Zeppelin are apt - mostly because of the drums, which are as muscular, heavy and clear as classic Bonham. You can also hear why they must be so enjoyable live - there is bombast and a power to the songs that must be quite cathartic, especially at smaller venues.

But "decent" and "better than average" wasn't was I expected. I expected epic, I expected revelatory. You can't go around courting comparisons to My Bloody Valentine and Led Zeppelin and turn out to be anything less. And this is where Now Here Is Nowhere leaves something to be desired.

Another thing you notice right away when listening to this album is that the vocals are very far forward in the mix. You can hear every word Brandon Curtis sings very clearly; but where the songs look to be epic, he steers them to end up falling somewhat flat. This has something to do with his very plain and earnest delivery - it is in the vein of what Wayne Coyne does with recent-year Flaming Lips, but Curtis lacks Coyne's ability to convey emotional depth.

It also has something to do with the lyrics themselves, which aren't particularly clever, nor are they shrouded in a particularly interesting mythology, which is what really defines a good psych-rock song. Take this example from the song "You Are Chains": "You are chains when you're chained/ With a chain with an iron ring/ Bound to a rock on which you stand/ So large, you can't see from its surface." This is meant to be profound, I suppose, but it is bit heavy-handed, a bit too close to corny high school poetry. Speaking of corny high school poetry, there's this from "Sad and Lonely": "And it feels like those around want you to die/ Well sometimes you feel like just crying/ You're still in love with me and you don't know why."

Mostly, though, the disappointment comes with the predictability and familiarity of the overall sound. None of the songs take a particularly unexpected turn, and after multiple listens there is nothing really new to discover. And right away, you're thinking of other bands as you listen - not only the aforementioned Zeppelin, but even Rush and Spacehog (especially on "Sad and Lonely"). There is nothing wrong with wearing one's influences on their sleeve, but at some point, the flag-waiving needs to be crafted into something unique to really hold my interest over time.

If you have not yet heard this album, and you've read along this far, as likely as not your expectations for Now Here Is Nowhere have been greatly diminished. This, however, is a good thing for you. Now, you can listen to it without all of the excess baggage of hype and anticipation. You can listen to it not expecting much, and this very solid, decent album may pleasantly surprise you. Which would make you better off than me.

Reviewed by Dan Filowitz
Dan Filowitz is Toronto-born, New-Jersey-raised, Indiana-University-educated, and Chicago-residing. In addition to his Lost At Sea contributions, Dan is a senior staff writer for political humor site TalkStation.com and the president of ChicagoImprovAnarchy (The CIA) a Chicago-based improv theatre company. We are not mentioning the 9-5 corporate job. Apparently, Dan does not sleep much. Dan Filowitz is the perfect dinner party guest - fun, witty, intelligent, with wide-ranging interests, ecclectic tastes and a winning smile. Just make sure you have coffee available.

See other reviews by Dan Filowitz



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