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RED Reviews
by Brent Sallay

Now Here Is Nowhere
The Secret Machines
Warner Bros. Records
(out of 5)

Two years ago, The Secret Machines put out September 000, a nearly full-length six-song EP that fell somewhere on the pleasure scale between “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”-era Pink Floyd and the nasal playfulness of fellow Warner Bros. labelmates Flaming Lips.

It was an album that I’m guessing (without research) sold precious few actual copies, but still managed to fill up quite a few hard drives. Ah, the indie sleeper hit— the most endearing victim of the file-sharing revolution.

Though a free download persuaded many more to give The Secret Machines a listen than could have possibly otherwise been reached, there wasn’t much left to convince them to pay for it, what with the relative lack of a marketing campaign and the album’s drab packaging.

What’s changed in two years? Well, for one, some record companies have wised up. Spending a dollar on a song may not be as appealing as a combo dog at Hot Dog on a Stick, but it sure beats getting slapped with a bogus subpoena and a tuition-sized fine. And then there’s Warner Bros. In a (perhaps not so much, but I’m going to call it that anyway) daring move, the label is offering the entire new album, Now Here Is Nowhere, via streaming audio online at— a full three months before it hits the streets.

If you like what you hear (and I suspect you will), you can buy it on iTunes for a mere $9 and then, get this, the label will send you a free CD-R with a design from the band on it, in addition to a free six-song CD sampler featuring, among other things, “The Rat” by the Walkmen, which in itself is worth well more than the $9 you’re paying for it.

But the best part of this whole deal is: I don’t even have to review the album for you. I mean, I like it and all, and I think you should definitely give it a listen, but I don’t have to give you any false expectations about how it’s “incendiary” or “innovative.” You can just listen to it for yourself and make up your own mind. In closing, the secret’s out, welcome to the machine…and so on.

Fabulous Muscles
Xiu Xiu
(out of 5)

It’s a good time to be alive if you’re a Xiu Xiu fan. For one, the band has put out its third (and probably best) album in only two years with the release of Fabulous Muscles. But mostly, Jamie Stewart just looks so cute and cuddly on that album cover, stroking that fuzzy stuffed animal, posing like Ian Curtis taking his 3-year-old out to the Chuck-E-Cheese. This is, of course, a far cry from the band’s last album, which depicted a slight Asian man trying to hide behind an even slighter orange box.

It’s this newfound playfulness that makes this Xiu Xiu’s most accessible album. Yet it sacrifices nothing artistically to do so. If anything, this juxtaposition of cute and alarming makes for an even better representation of the band’s strengths.

“Crank Heart” sets the pace for the album, opening with a riff straight out of a Nintendo game that eventually erupts into typical Xiu Xiu I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-suicide territory with one slight change: The song is terribly catchy.

I’ll be honest with you. Knife Play, the band’s first album, was interesting to me as a novelty (especially “I Broke Up”), but it failed to sustain any momentum throughout the course of an entire album. A Promise, on the other hand, while a vast improvement artistically and musically— and boasting a near-perfect opener in “Sad Pony Guerrilla Girl”— was ultimately so jarring and, yes, frightening, that eventually I simply could not stand to listen to it any longer.

Now on Fabulous Muscles, Stewart seems to have gotten the balance just right, offering a challenging album that tackles deeply ingrained psychological grievances with nontraditional musical structures, but at the same time manages to be entirely listenable. Granted, it’s still not for the light of heart, but hopefully it will at least attract enough new (and sane) audience members to the next Xiu Xiu show so I won’t have to bring a bodyguard for my [GIANT ORANGE BOX].

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