Their prior 2010 live demo, Awash in Feedback, served notice of their arrival, and with a thickly-fuzzed 39-minute full-length, Arlington, Texas, duo Stone Machine Electric make their self-titled debut. Immediately notable is the production job of Wo Fat guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump, who brings to these songs a similar sense of warmth captured on his band’s 2011 outing, The Black Code, though Stone Machine Electric are somewhat rawer in their approach, and much like Awash in Feedback (review here) was very much a demo, Stone Machine Electric is very much a first album. In fact, opener “Mushroom Cloud” and closer “Nameless” appeared as highlights on the demo, so there’s even more of a link between the releases – as if being put out by the same band wasn’t enough, I guess? – but the leap in development is not to be understated. That was a live demo. This is an album. Its five component tracks all top six minutes – the longest, second cut “Hypocrite Christ” jams its way past 10 – and there’s a firm sense that both William “Dub” Irvin, guitar/vocals and all bass save for the aforementioned longest track, and Kitchens, drums/vocals, have a grip on what they want Stone Machine Electric to sound like. They are of their genre and of their region, and while Texas has one of the most densely populated scenes in the union – as much as anything can be densely populated in such wide open spaces – Stone Machine Electric shows enough potential in the band to begin to stand them out in a manner no less striking that the CD’s manic, Terry Gilliam-esque cover. It is the beginning, but one listen to the thickness with which Dub’s guitar and Kitchens’ toms are presented in the rolling grooves of “Mushroom Cloud,” and especially hearing how big a role the bass plays for a band that, at the time of the recording, didn’t have a bassist (Mark Cook has reportedly since come aboard in that slot), and there’s a palpable potential in what they do. Also helps that, when he needs to, Dub can tear ass through a psychedelic solo, as he does on “Mushroom Cloud,” and though the vocals are understated pretty much front to back, that works well in the mix to play up the thickness of the guitars, bass and drums.
And yes, I do mean thick drums. Kitchens’ toms are high in parts, as on “Hypocrite Christ,” but on most stereos, it shouldn’t be an issue, and the fullness in their sound is fitting complement to Dub’s wall of fuzz. “Hypocrite Christ” has a laid back, jammy haze, and a rougher, more forward vocal, but the riffing is choice and the feel is that much more relatable to a live sense of the band with guest bassist Daryl Bell, who’s given no small task in providing a foundational rhythm to the jam in the song’s second half, topped by Kitchen’s toms and a sliding, echoing solo from Dub. The lyrics are a touch juvenile, but the hook of “Bleed for me/I won’t bleed for you” is drawn out and strong enough to stand on its own despite any over-familiarity of theme, and in any case, it’s an older song, written in 2005 by Dub’s prior band, Dead Rustic Dog, in which Bell also played bass. Centerpiece “Carve” nestles itself into a niche close to the rhythmic bounce of the first two Suplecs records, and follows a vocal cadence accordingly, beginning with a heavy-footed lumber in the opening jam before Dub’s guitar chug leads into the verse while Kitchens adds flourish with quick punctuating fills between each line. A more hectic chorus emerges, but the hook is less prevalent than that of “Hypocrite Christ,” and the most memorable aspect of the song winds up being its classically stoner central riff, which wouldn’t have been out of place on the first Sasquatch album, or indeed on either of Wo Fat’s last two records. Such is the sonic company that Stone Machine Electric seem most intent on keeping, but though some of the self-titled’s most effective moments come when engrossed in fuzzy lurch, the near-shuffle that consumes the middle-third jam on “Carve” winds up being what most justifies it as the album’s centerpiece, Dub and Kitchens working a trio dynamic into a two-piece, sounding their most assured of anywhere on the recording. The groove is plotted and the transition back to the verse easy, and they cap the 9:19 track with a bass interlude leading to a big rock finish of leads and crash.
Dub’s bass work throughout Stone Machine Electric turns out to be a defining element of the album’s overall sound. Unlike some (that’s not to say “most”) guitar players who wind up recording low-end tracks, Dub doesn’t lose sight of a bassist’s dynamic. He plays off the guitar instead of just with it, and the resulting difference is that between Stone Machine Electric sounding like a duo with bass added and more like the genuine trio they apparently have intended all along to be. Similarly, lead and rhythm guitar are well layered on the penultimate “No/w/here,” an array of flange and delay leads cropping up amid the jammy vibe and still-structured verses. Dub’s bass here too proves excellent, well captured and mixed by Stump, and as the song devolves into a midsection jam of its own, the repeated line “This one’s not insane” helps transition to the track’s final movement. A build of guitar, bass and drums ensues, met once more by a classic rock solo, but “No/w/here” ends quietly, stuttering and then ringing out until cutting to silence to make way for the also quiet intro to the closer, “Nameless.” The second of Stone Machine Electric’s repurposed demo cuts offers descending doom riffage and an engaging linear progression not entirely dissimilar from that of “Mushroom Cloud,” culminating in a rousing chug of a finish as Dub and Kitchens align rhythmically beneath dueling solos, each consuming the channel in which it dwells before giving way to a deconstructing version of the central groove that comprises the wash of the closer’s final minute. It’s not a pompous ending by any means, but there is a march at work as “Nameless” fades out, and like the course of Stone Machine Electric’s debut, it makes me hopeful for what the band might be able to do from here. One is left wondering if perhaps they don’t regret the album’s timing a bit, since it wasn’t until after it was put to tape that Mark Cook joined, but they’ve been through a couple bassists and maybe Dub and Kitchens just got tired of waiting. Whatever the case, their debut CD is spot on Texan fuzzy doom that offers a summation of what the core duo have been able to accomplish to this point while also providing a bright outlook for future development. There are kinks yet to work out, but Stone Machine Electric seem to be up to the task.
Tags: Arlington, Stone Machine Electric, Stone Machine Electric self-titled, Texas, Unsigned bands