The Machine & Sungrazer, Split CD: Flowing through Slipface

Posted in Reviews on April 30th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

The Machine and Sungrazer have a lot in common. Both are three-piece bands. Both hail from the Netherlands. Both are signed to Elekrohasch, and both specialize in a densely-fuzzed kind of heavy psych, born out of a healthy affection for Fu Manchu-via-Colour Haze tube-bursting idolatry. They share parts but not the whole of an aesthetic in this, and both represent a jam-minded outgrowth of the European underground, even as they continue to craft memorable songs in balance with an open feel. For The Machine, who come from Rotterdam, their 2012 full-length, Calmer than You Are (review here), unveiled a distinct progression in their sound, taking the vibes of their three prior offerings and solidifying them into something more completely the band’s own, moving past some of the Colour Haze-ing and into a guitar-led groovefest, varying in its drive but never without movement. Released a few months earlier, Sungrazer‘s 2011 sophomore outing, Mirador (review here), was as brilliant as it was dreamy. A follow-up to their also-stellar self-titled debut, it build on the ultra-warm tonality of the first album and pushed further into a sunny, jammed laconic semi-consciousness, keeping a sense of exploration in songs that even through that remained catchy and engaging, not at all indulgent sounding where they shouldn’t have been. It’s not necessarily surprising that the two acts would team up for a tour, which they did earlier this year, calling it “Strikes and Gutters” in keeping with The Machine‘s fetish for The Big Lebowski, but that the up-and-comers would unite for a split release to mark the occasion was something of a bonus. Issued by Elektrohasch, The Machine and Sungrazer‘s The Machine & Sungrazer split arrives both as vinyl and CD with three tracks from each act that showcase both what they share in terms of approach and some of the key differences between, totaling a comfortable 47-minute long-player rife with some of the best next-gen heavy psych Europe has to offer.

Guitarist/vocalist David Eering of The Machine recorded both bands at his Studio De Zolder, so there’s a consistency of sound between the two that most splits don’t have, allowing for a complete flow across the tracks even as the CD changes between The Machine and Sungrazer at the halfway point. Both bands open big, with The Machine taking the kind of riff that High on Fire seemed to use to construct the entirety of The Art of Self Defense and riding it for more than 10 minutes of chugging splendor. Following a sample of the moon landing (“The Eagle has landed”), Eering begins the track on guitar to announce said riff and is soon joined by a booming bass glissando from Hans van Heemst and drum crash from Davy Boogaard – the course is immediately set. Some riffs are enough to carry a song, and presented as hugely as this one is, it pretty much does, Eering topping with some echoing vocals and a numerical chorus line “10-56-69” reminiscent of “5 & 4” from Calmer than You Are without being redundant of it. An extended fuzzy solo break provides some change as Boogaard’s steady snare holds the piece together, and when they return to the central riff, it sounds even bigger than before, devolving into noise and feedback to close out the last minute-plus. This leads to the surprising rush of the 2:31 “Not Only,” which showcases a punkish side that does most of the work in distinguishing The Machine from their psychedelic peers. A strong hook pokes through on the quick as the song races past in two verses and choruses, a solo and a heads-down pummeling outro, and the trio find some contextual middle ground between the two atmospheres on the ensuing “Slipface,” dialing back on the pace but keeping the extended form of the opener and the chorus-minded vibe of the second cut. A solid stoner rocker, it reinforces the analog-type warmth in Eering’s recording and opens to a jammier feel as feedback is underscored by van Heemst’s bass and Boogaard’s drums, setting up a wah-heavy solo that moves into an instrumental jam that persists for the duration of the song, abandoning the structure in favor of psychedelic exploration, but hinting at it enough instrumentally to give a sense that The Machine haven’t lost sight of their departure point. They end quietly with a sweet drone and some effects noise, making way for the big drum crash that opens Sungrazer’s “Dopo.”

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