Pete Feenstra chatted to Glitter Machine’s John McKeown on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio with tracks from the new album (Sunday 19 May, 20:00 GMT)
Two Nine Records [Release date 15.03.19]
Glitter Machine is an art rock band that embraces a wide range of musical influences from hard rock, new wave, electronica and gothic-rock to psychedelia and eerie soundscapes, all of which serve to give their music an edge in a homogeneous landscape.
They have much work to do as they are starting from scratch as a completely unknown band not easily given to musical categorisation. Happily their ironically titled ‘Hanging Out For Fame’ album is dull of boundless creativity, inspired playing and suggests a potential durability while the rest of the world catches up with their nouveau electronic art rock.
They take us on a broad based uplifting musical journey that is sometimes tantalisingly familiar, but is constantly evolving. Put simply, Glitter Machine make exploratory, creative, colourful and downright exciting music.
There’s a significant counter-balance at play between the pointed retro influences and their ability to shift between genres, even during the course of one song.
Bass player Rick Hornby adds some hard popping electronic style bass lines to complement Paul Stones’ imaginative drum patterns, while guitarist Dom McGuinness colours the musical palette, allowing vocalist John McKeown to extemporize with relish.
They open with the straight-to-the-vein tribal beat and McKeown’s exclamatory vocals on the portentous sounding ‘Blood & Bones’. His vocal hovers perfectly above a sparse arrangement which suddenly veers to a huge vocal block and an electronic wall of sound. It’s a great example of the startling dynamics that lie at the core of an adventurous album.
McKeown’s subtle phrasing, arresting timbre and versatile range swoops and hollers to evoke some filmic imagery as part of the band’s layered sound.
The opening electronic burst of ‘Take The Pain’ is one of many impressive eerie tones created by the inventive guitarist Dom McGuiness. And alongside the percolating rhythm section of bassist Rick Hornby and drummer Paul Stone, McGuinness’s array of electro squalls and fiery riffs provide the binding thread of a kick ass song. Drummer Stone lays down some essential grooves, high octane tempos and adds an occasional lightness of touch that enables the band to explore a full range of dynamics.
He’s in his element on the dappled drum pattern of the Bowie influenced ‘Pressing You Down’, complete with accompanying harmonies and sculpted electronic guitar sounds.
‘Sacrifice’ is another Bowie influenced song that derives its impetus from the throbbing rhythm-track, evocative phrasing, cool dynamics and a melodic bent, which flickers to life in between moments of fragmented electronica and deft bv’s.
It’s the minutiae of their sonic detail that makes Glitter Machine so special. You can feel their music evolving track by track. Unlike Muse for example, this is a band that works hard at its art, rather than shifting with the commercial tides.
The album title comes from a line in the impressive You Tube favourite ‘Blackbird’. It could almost be an oblique reference to the band’s own musical output, which often evokes the late 70’s OMD/Bowie era. But it is Glitter Machine’s unfettered spontaneity that gives tracks such as ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Take The Pain’ their substance.
They add some Lou Reed Metal Machine Music style effects on the dense intro to ‘Blackbird’. Everything hangs on McKeown’s sinewy vocal, leading into a drone that is one art electronica and one part space rock, punctuated by electric guitar squalls that would make James Blood Ulmer smile.
The band’s ability to embrace a wide array of musical styles and mould them into something unique makes it such an interesting proposition.
‘Hanging Out For Fame’ is a work of art that reveals more with each play, whether it’s a memorable lyric, a resonant guitar line, the cool bv’s on ‘Shooter’ or the frequent quiet-to-loud dynamics that underpins so much of what they do.
They reveal another part of their eclectic oeuvre on ‘I Don’t Mind’. A staggered vocal and acoustic guitar gives way to an electronic swirl, hypnotic groove and snappy hook shrouded by dreamy bv’s, as everything flows inexorably into the closing descending electronic riff.
The cleverly sequenced album also amplifies contrast, as evidenced by the juxtaposition of a polished production with a contrasting loose intro to the poppy ‘Kiss Your Life’ which could be The Everly Brothers!
But that’s the whole point of The Glitter Machine. All you need to know is writ large in their name, as they throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. The album still feels like a linear journey on which they broaden their musical scope.
By the time of the hypnotic Noir feel of ‘Devils Stew’ we are plunged into electronic soundscapes which though routed in the early 80’s are shaped into something all of their own.
They rock hard on the up tempo, staccato riff-driven ‘The Ballad of Mary T’ with some John Lydon style phrasing, as McGuinness adds some machine gun rhythm and spiky riffs.
They round things with a final burst of electronics and angular guitar lines on ‘Shame’, an atmospheric track that musically evokes Brian Eno, while the close-to-the-mic vocals could be Brendan Perry from Dead Can Dance.
The band’s enveloping electronic into psychedelic soundscapes also have an early Floyd feel, but ultimately it’s 100% Glitter Machine art rock.
‘Hanging Out For Fame’ draws heavily on the past to create something new and exciting for the future. It’s music with real depth, substance and spontaneity. The musical triggers on the closing track alone send us into another stratosphere. No better band to take us there. ****½
Review by Pete Feenstra
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 30 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 8 September 2020.
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