I’ve been aware of The Machine In The Garden in passing for a few years. Probably not since their first release in 1993 but I’ve downloaded a few MP3s and heard various compilation appearances in my time. I always meant to investigate further. But with one thing and another I never got around to it. So now, a mere 12 years after their creation, I get to enjoy The Machine In The Garden album experience in full.
The ethereal voice of Summer and the gentle
flow of the music reminds me of
Things take a turn too far into the electronic for me on “Mantra”. The harshness of the drums sounds at odds with the rise and fall of synthesisers. This sounds like a remix done by a band with an underscore and a number in their name. Summer’s voice is as beautiful as ever but I’d enjoy this more with a less frantic rhythm track running through it. I appreciate “Suspend” all the more for the contrast it offers. The circling echo-laden guitar makes a good counterpoint to the throbbing bass sound. The song explodes after the two and a half minutes, which works well. At the eye of the hurricane Summer has the same manner as Dru from This Ascension, which is a good thing. The song then calms for a while, before erupting again.
The name The Machine in the Garden refers to the progress of technology and its relationship with nature. I like the natural imagery that runs through the songs. We have mention of streams, storms, winter, forests, wind and fire. If you are the sort of person that likes to listen to music when reading, may I suggest The Machine In The Garden the next time you are reading myths or fantasy. Songs on previous albums have taken inspiration from writers as diverse as Marion Zimmer Bradley, George R. R. Martin and H.P. Lovecraft.
“Mother” is a cover of a song by a band called Zia. I’ve not heard the original, but Summer and Roger assure us it is different. The song is steeped in metaphor but there can be few that won’t immediately appreciate its ecological message. Thematically it reminds me of something that might appear on Kate Bush’s Never For Ever album. The washes of synthesiser mix with strange buzzes and clicks, with Summer sounding at her most strident. It’s not the easiest of listens, but succeeds at getting its point across.
Both Roger and Summer sing on “Spider’s Bride” which has a throbbing bass sound at its core. The drums thump and crash while the song rolls relentlessly on. Here they seem to represent the technological as opposed to nature. I’m briefly reminded of Collide or Curve. “Illusions In Rain” is piano-led and reminds me of The Shroud circa the Long Ago and Far Away album. “If Ever” has an acoustic guitar and initially reminds me of Faith and The Muse. This song cycles between quiet and loud, which always keeps things interesting.
For the finale The Machine In The Garden go back to their roots with an early 80s Depeche Mode-style synth song. The harshness of the previous song is replaced by Summer’s sensuous vocals. Thankfully Summer and Roger haven’t borrowed Martin L Gore’s rhyming dictionary. “Goodbye” is an affecting tribute to death – either literal or symbolic – which at once embraces both the ideas of nature - in the lyrics, and technology - to produce the music. They combine to produce both intellectual and emotional pleasure in this listener.
Summer and Roger are accomplished musicians. They have a strong identity, but also the ability to vary their style, while remaining distinctively The Machine In The Garden. I approve of their subject matter and agree with their views. Sometimes I find their sound a little cold, perhaps due to the use of electronics. Occasionally I wish they had chosen a less frantic drum pattern. I like and appreciate this album, but I think it is going to take a little longer for me to truly love it. I’m prepared to make the effort though … now where did I leave my book?
Summer Bowman - vocals, programming, flute, melodica, guitar and hammered dulcimer in the studio and vocals, guitar, flute, and melodica live.