Rain Machine – [Album]

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The romantic image that most music fans tend to harbor when they think about the process of making a new album is always the same: even the most social of bands will retire to comfortable studio confines after a regimen of touring and songwriting, where they'll flip the switches on their inspiration to create something that is simultaneously a statement of themselves and where it is creatively at that moment. It's an attractive and romantic thought, but it almost never happens that way in actuality. In the studio, bands are almost never left alone to create a document uninfluenced by outside sources; there tends to be an unending procession of characters in supporting rolls, in fact. On the guest list will be producers (seldom just one) that offer input regarding ways to improve individual songs or the flow of an album as a whole, engineers to help the ideas of both band and producer happen, label Artist & Repertoire representatives are on-hand to ensure that their company's investment of time and money isn't wasted, the band's management might stop by to see how things are going and any number of other guests and hangers-on might hold cameo roles too. Needless to say, it's an unusual happenstance that even a solo performer is left all alone and to his own devices but, when that does happen, it's really saying something.. It means there is a whole lot of trust placed by the rock n' roll businessman hiding behind the curtain in the performer to get the job done.

Sometimes that sort of trust is easily placed though – as is evidently the case in the very long creative leash afforded TV On The Radio vocalist/guitarist/sound scientist Kyp Malone for his new solo project, Rain Machine. For this album, Malone was offered seemingly limitless freedom, and that fact really shows from the spare, percussion-and-whistling-dominated opening track ambiguously-entitled “Intro.” Even in that spare beginning (there's really not much other than the aforementioned instruments to it), Malone hints that Rain Machine will not be just another same-y sort of TV On The Radio Affair (while some of those sounds will be present).

Okay, let's get things straight right off the top: Rain Machine is undoubtedly a side project but, unlike the bizarre sounds of sound science that characterize TV On The Radio's albums, this album actually does conjure images of a guy alone in a recording studio, building his ideas from the ground up and, as soon as that off-the-cuff, “I just had some time to kill” vibe is set with the “Intro,” Malone puts all his energy into putting flesh on that skeleton.

The way in which each song builds and layers back on itself will inevitably be characterized as 'organic' (or some similarly contrived adjective) but, while the natural assemblage  and progression of each song is perfectly valid, that doesn't mean that it always works out perfectly. With some soul in his voice similar to what Prince expressed with New Power Generation but with an airier, looser design like Frank Zappa used for his first few records, Malone enacts his own solitary performance in that he's at the center of each mix while simple drum figures, drone-y keyboards and rhythm-minded guitars orbit around him. It's no a unique design by any stretch, but it's certainly a compelling one – songs like ”Give Blood” and “Hold You Holy” work through an interesting interplay of rhythm and surprising musicianship, while “Desperate Bitch” and “Love Won't Save You” update the dronier, more atonal side of The Velvet Underground for a much meaner street in addition to the earlier focus of indie-infused New Power Soul and the intrinsically classic bent of Zappa. How does it all mix? Neither cleanly nor evenly, that's for sure, but that dirty take on sounds usually handled with kid gloves will draw listeners that like a little dirt in their art (read: Sonic Youth and Velvets fans will line up) and don't see any reason why not to stretch that aesthetic idea to its limits.

Obviously with that said, Rain Machine won't be everyone's cup of tea, but that should come as no surprise to those familiar with Kyp Malone's musical pedigree – in fact, it could be argued that Rain Machine is simply the low-fi and experimental, less calculated extreme of TV On The Radio. Is it the single greatest exposition of Malone's faculties as a solo act? No, it isn't – but it's also his first attempt and Rain Machine does contain enough unusual and interesting ideas to keep the guitarist busy expanding upon for years to come.



Rain Machine
– “Give Blood” – Rain Machine

Rain Machine – “Smiling Black Faces” – Rain Machine


Rain Machine's self-titled debut comes out on September 22, 2009. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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