Continuing Elektrohasch Schallplatten’s streak of supporting high-grade next gen fuzz and heavy psych, Dutch trio The Machine’s fourth album, Calmer than You Are points its Lebowski-referential finger right in your face and challenges you to prove the title wrong. Good luck. Led by guitarist/vocalist David Eering and filled and thickened by the rhythm section of bassist Hans van Heemst and drummer Davy Boogaard, the band has grown more over the course of the five years they’ve been together than the four records they’ve put out in that time can tell. Calmer than You Are is comprised of seven varied tracks for a total of a bit under 46 minutes of jam-based songwriting, very much driven by Eering’s fuzz and wah. He is a stellar lead player and constructs engaging grooves in his riffs, and as eight-minute opener “Moonward” shifts from its subdued, sitar-infused opening to the more raucous final third (there’s a clear divide at 5:39, you’ll pardon me if I don’t give the actual percentage of the song that makes up), it’s clear The Machine are ready to join the ranks of Sungrazer at the fore of their country’s fuzz rock scene. Indeed, Calmer than You Are shows the two bands have a lot in common stylistically and atmospherically, though The Machine’s production is a bit rawer and the songs as a whole less directly reliant on echo to sustain their tones. Not that The Machine are lacking for echo or reverb – Eering’s vocals on “Scooch” alone fill any quota that might crop up – but especially for Boogaard’s drums, the overall sound of Calmer than You Are is somewhat more stripped down than was Sungrazer’s Mirador, whatever else the two records might share between them or however well they might complement each other.
The Machine’s third album and Elektrohasch debut, Drie (review here), was nearly 80 minutes long, so it’s worth noting that they’ve significantly cut the sheer amount of material that makes up Calmer than You Are, and predictably, that works somewhat to the benefit of the individual tracks. Both “Scooch” and the more blatantly stoner rock start-stop riffing of “Grain,” which follows, are clearly jam-based, but The Machine have gone so far as to distill the jams down into discernible structures. There’s still room for Eering to rip into soulful solos for a few bars, and other tracks take that further, but “Grain” in particular proves excellently that The Machine have more to them than just tonal warmth and a propensity for grooving. It’s the work of burgeoning songwriters beginning to come of age as a band. On “Scooch,” it’s van Heemst’s bass that most shines, but whoever’s in the lead of the trio – Boogaard does his time out front of the mix as well – they’re showing a sense of diversity in their approach and not so much bending their sound to make and album as bending an album to fit their sound. The eight-minute “DOG,” which rounds out side A of Calmer than You Are is a standout and one of the best songs of the bunch. Akin in its beginning rhythm to Sungrazer’s “Common Believer,” it soon pushes into the LP’s most memorable hook and fullest-sounding chorus. Eering shows how far he’s come as a vocalist since the band’s 2007 debut, Shadow of the Machine, found them getting their bearings very much in a fashion after Colour Haze, and a lengthy instrumental jam in the midsection bridges a gap between the verse/chorus tradeoffs and what The Machine has previously shown of themselves on their prior efforts. Grandiose heaviness ensues and with great skill, Eering and company bring the chorus around once more before giving in to a minute-plus of warm feedback and noise to fade out to wind noise to close the first half of the album.
Side B gets moving immediately propelled by Boogaard’s short drum intro to “Sphere (…or Kneiter),” the longest cut on Calmer than You Are at 12:22 and a worthy successor to “DOG.” The guitar quiets down during the verse, letting van Heemst’s bass round out those parts with Boogaard keeping the song’s steady and somewhat quicker pace, and the structure of verses/choruses and the extended middle jam is roughly the same as it was on “DOG,” only here it’s longer and takes up nearly a full 10 minutes of the song’s runtime. Eering lets loose probably the album’s best solo to start things off while van Heemst and Boogaard provide ample shuffle behind, and soon the song breaks into a massive swirl of effects and echo-laden lead lines. They riff spaceward for a bit and then settle again into a bass-led groove before picking up and teasing payoff a few times before actually bringing the chorus back in the last 45 seconds to put the cap on what for the CD makes a swollen midsection. Restoring balance between jamming and songwriting, “5 & 4” challenges “DOG” for the best hook and affirms the choice of album title, in that though tonally and rhythmically, the song is quite weighted, it’s nonetheless got that laid back feel that the newer-school of European jam-based heavy psych seems to do so well. As it did on Drie, Eering’s lower-register vocals work very well in conveying this atmosphere, and his fuzz-caked solo leads to – you guessed it – a long jam that instead of veering back to the chorus, just plays itself out to the end until funky start-stop closer “Repose” offers bouncy intricacy to go with van Heemst’s junk-in-the-trunk low end. Boogaard does well in keeping a quirky beat to highlight the lighthearted feel of the track, and by the time it’s over at a scant 3:07, it’s hard to believe Calmer than You Are has ended as well. It seems that where The Machine went into overload on Drie, they’ve decided to leave their audience wanting more this time around, and it’s worked. I’m intrigued to see where this balance of jammed and more straightforwardly structured material takes them, and glad to hear that their embarking on this stylistic development has cost nothing in terms of their tonal appeal or endearing grooves.
Elektrohasch, Rotterdam, The Machine, The Netherlands