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Work Tapes


Thinking Machines

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There is a spot where noise and punk overlap. That is, punk rock was not always the brightly polished pop that Green Day have perfected. Rather, think back to the mid 1980s, when Sonic Youth, then just a scruffy noise band from NYC, started releasing records on SST records. Yes, they were on the same label as Black Flag. Think about that for a minute.

Thinking Machines are a band who carry on that tradition. There are equal parts heavy Black Flag riffing and Sonic Youth noisy noodling on Work Tapes. This is the second record from this Philadelphia band, who have recently expanded their lineup from a trio to a quartet. I am not familiar with their earlier work, but the dueling guitars of Cody Brown and Marcus Epler work so well together that i have a hard time thinking of the band with only one guitar!

This is a roaringly fierce album that starts off with a flurry of guitars chugging and drums thudding, just the band hammering away at it in Dynamic Shields. Shortly the voices come in, a call and response vocal style, as the guitars continue to grind. Never Reach Us Now continues in the same vein, with the two vocalists and a furious pace. This song reminds me a bit of Fin Fang Foom, and a bit of Sonic Youth.

False is the epitome of their sound, in my opinion. It reminds me of All the Nations Airports by Archers of Loaf, which is a flattering recommendation from anyone at EvilSponge. This is the culmination of this record, it's crowning glory. It is where what Thinking Machines are doing with layers of noisy guitar and flat drumming all suddenly comes together. It happens on the chorus, where the vocalist sings (not screams or talks), and one guitar chimes while the other grinds away sludgily. This is a fan-freaking-tastic tune.

The next song, Titan goes off in a slightly different direction. The drums are loud and thudding, and the bass positively rumbles. In reminds me of War-era U2, at least in the rhythm. The guitars are a trebly rumble and chime, while the voice is an eerie chanting, barely heard. Good stuff.

Now, up to this point on the record, there has been a simmering similarity to Sonic Youth. The band use noisy guitars and slightly odd rhythms, and the vocalist talks his lines often in a slightly nasally manner. Well, Nothing Feels the Same sounds to me like it could have come off of Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star. Not that this is bad -- in fact it's a pretty good tune -- but certain people are put off by this type of music. If you are one of them, be warned.

Timing is Thinking Machines re-interpreting the mid 1980s. There are faint and echoed backing vocals behind the voice, and the guitars are more chiming than usual. I like the way the bass rumbles through this song, and in general this is pretty good.

Thinking Machines channel Landing with their next song, Segment, which begins with heavily echoed guitars meandering for a half a minute before the rest of the band kicks in. The guitars continue to echo, but once the rhythm section kicks in, it moves faster and more furiously than anything Landing ever did. Alas, the song is over in a minute and a half, an interlude more than a song really, which is a damned shame because i would love to hear more like this.

Parallax is another catchy tune with distorted guitars riffing like something from Daydream Nation. The title track is next, and it grinds along slowly, almost ponderously. Finally things wrap up with Loop, which is part title, part explanation. This is a pleasant song, with a guitar layer slowly whirring away over some really insistent drumming. It is a nice instrumental.

Overall, i am impressed. Thinking Machines really know what they are doing, and although this isn't the most innovative album i have ever heard, it does what it does rather nicely, and i think that the band show a few ideas which lead me to believe they have some more interesting music in them. A band to watch, and Work Tapes is a worthwhile record for fans of distorted guitar rock.

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