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The Machine in the Garden "Shadow Puppets"

new material from the brilliant darkwave duo!

I've been a fan of the Machine in the Garden for some time now, having been introduced to them in the early days through a chance discovery on mp3.com. They've always impressed me with their sophistication, the elegance of their lyrics, their excellent musicianship. I hold them in very high regard and I look forward to each new release with a tremendous sense of anticipation. But nothing could have prepared me for the brilliance of their latest disc, "Shadow Puppets". Summer Bowman and Roger Frace of the Machine in the Garden have surpassed all previous expectations presented by earlier discs and created an epic, beautiful collection of songs that stand among the best I've heard so far this year.

Opening with "This Silence", the tone is set with languid guitar arpegios and beguiling percussion leading into a swelled chorus that totally rocks. Summer's vocals sound sensual like honey on this one, drawing the listener deeper and deeper into a new plane of existance. Go ahead, step inside, you can thank her on the other side...

Track two, "The Inside World", employs a steady kick drum beat and tension ridden guitar masterfully played underneath fully controlled vocals. Secrets, solopsisms and magic all rolled up into one. Brilliant.

"Winter Fell" is next, a chilled piece of music that stands as one of my favorites on the disc. It's a slowly building track that draws from a slight intro into more intense emotional territory. Chilling, beautiful and all together wonderful.

"Mantra" opens with a burbling, glitchy electronic intro, all feedback laden and processed noise, mad experiments in sound bubbling up from test tubes and beakers. Vocals take on a particularly automated quality here, a processed element that brings to mind images of black rainfall and Daryl Hannah using spray paint as makeup. This is a good thing by the way. Sheerly robotic in a most appealing fashion.

"Suspend" uses fluid vocals over sparse keyboard work leading into guitar melodies and dramatic rhythm patterns. There's a theatricality to this piece, a really lovely cinematic quality that would lend itself well to a video. Ummmmmmm, Summer? Roger? Are you taking note here? kthxbye!!!1!

The next song, "More Unto Fire Dreamt", is a slower paced, arpegio based track that reminds me of earlier work by the band. It's a lovely piece that allows Summer's vocals to stretch out and flow, a great showcase for her impressive talents.

"Mother" is a cover of a song by Elaine Walker of ZIA, an incredibly powerful piece that captures the helplessness of illness. It's a powerful example of the way music can be used to vocalize emotions and sentiment, a very impressive work that stays with the listener long after it's completion.

"Spider's Bride" follows, a vaguely unsettling track filled with layered vocals and driving percussive patterns. Roger makes a brief appearance on back up vocals on this one, adding a dramatic quality that really complements the song. Vocals wrap around eachother, intertwining, building in intensity. A lovely piece of string taut tension.

"Illusions in Rain" features vocals and piano overtop a steady droning melody. Sparse, minimal, beautiful. Saying anything more would only take away from its wonders.

"If Ever" opens with a lovely blend of acoustic guitar and ethereal vocals, a yearning need, reaching beyond oneself. As time progresses electric elements are added to accent the strength and desire in the piece and by the time the song is over, you want and need everything in just the same way.

"Goodbye" closes the album with a steady synth line and swooning vocals. A lovely way to close a disc filled with beauty, wonder, secrets and mysteries.

So what more is there to be said that hasn't already been mentioned? "Shadow Puppets" is a slick production, lyrically strong and mature, filled with great programming and a lovely blend of both organic and electronic elements. Whether you're a long time fan of the band or if you're looking for something new to check out, you owe it to yourself to investigate this disc. You'll be glad you did.

rik - ping things

last updated 07/24/05