As I have only discovered Machinista in 2015, and I must admit I wasn’t up to date when their first album Xenoglossy was released, I feel I must make up for it and do a review of both of their releases.
Although Xenoglossy lifted a lot of dust when it appeared I decided to add my own thoughts about that piece of material.
At first listening, Machinista offered me an immediate mind and heart connection to their sound and their lyrical material, and to the voice. I felt like seeing Sweden without ever being there. They are melancholic, somewhat cold (for someone coming from the Mediterranean) but with lots of love and sincerity. That’s a mix of impressions you get and it grows on you, makes you want to experience the feeling over and over again, so you listen, as I do, now even singing along with it.
I was a bit surprised that the first track immediately went straight to the point, as if saying: Why wait, why stall?
“Take Comfort in Being Sad” got me thinking. Is there really a comfort in sadness? Good choice for the opening track, as it is really a punchy title with a lot of meaning in just one phrase. Like a sublime message, but then the sound comes. Yes, you would expect some whining but you discover a pop tune, melancholic, but yet pop! Great chorus, but if you are sensitive, skip the lyrics maybe.
Thank God for stopping me shedding a tear, as “Arizona Lights” is a bit lighter emotionally. It is again utterly melodic and catchy, but a brighter piece that prepares you for the one I consider the hit, which is “Moleculs and Carbon”. I say a hit not only because the guys made a video for it (that I must admit is cute), but because it is a song that would do well on the dance floor and I hope someone plays it in clubs, as I sure would. “Moleculs And Carbon” is a dancy track, making you want to move and yes, sing that chorus. But as the album cannot shake off this contagious melancholy, so does this song flirt with melancholy a lot, and that can be found, again, in the lyrics. But wait for “Salvation”! It shifts from almost complete sadness to the feelings of hope in the chorus. It plays with opposed feelings; for a moment, yes, you are lost, but then… a salvation is there for you, and you are saved by the chorus that shifts from dark to a more uplifting tone. “Summersault” is one of my favourite tracks on this album. A beautiful, thoughtful song reflecting on the past but also looking into the future, evoking a strong emotional response, if you are the kind of a listener who likes to be submerged in melancholy. Again a song dealing with the ghosts of the past and looking into the future is “Pushing the Angels Astray”, but packed once again in pop sound, with more rhythm and a recognizable chorus most of the tracks are really blessed with. “Wasted” brings a nice refreshment as a duet with Toril Lindquist and “Love and Hate Song” is yet one of my favourites, as it starts quite innocent but has an unusual twist in the chorus that I quite like and would not expect, so it is a bit of a listening surprise. “Crash” has again that melancholy moment mixed with synth pop, the formula that works so well throughout the album, but would not work without such emotionally painted melodies. I ask myself: Is it Sweden? And I would so much like to skip “The Blues and the Reds” since it is not the music that is leading you here, it’s the lyrics. And beware, read at your own risk. I have regretted it, as this is the darkest point of the album lyrically and I would rather that I had not read them at this late hour. But as even I think they knew (or maybe not) what they saved for the end, they kinda decided not to leave you with a bitter feeling, so they offered you hope again, with a very successful cover of Bowie’s Heroes. Yes they dared, and he who dares…
The second Machinista album, named after a term taken from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Garmonbozia initially makes you wonder about the title itself. For those who are not familiar with the term, a good way to make a listener a bit curious and make a google search.
“Picture Frame Eternity” is an excellent showcase track, that shows you right from the start how their sound evolved. It offers a bit more complexity than the first album; I quite like the arrangements, the fullness of sound, but you can still, of course, tell you are listening to Machinista. I would say it is a more mature version, and John’s voice is ever so beautiful. A perfect stream of melody can be heard in the chorus again, as well as an ever present melancholy, and what I consider to be very honest poetry. Machinista’s melancholy pop continues on “Dark Heart of Mine” but yes, you can definitely hear the evolution of their sound, even though the albums are only a year apart. And it is really nice to hear a song in Swedish “Brandbergen, Stockholm via Kalmar till Malmö” and it is a perfect choice for this track as it only highlights that vision of Sweden as the title numbers Swedish cities. After this slower track, Machinista get back on track with “The Bombs” and while the tune is more optimistic the lyrics are in contrast and that is one of the tricks they pull off so brilliantly. Machinista really is both a musical and a lyrical experience. Overall, this album is a bit more daring and has a harsher feel to it, especially with the use of guitars. “Surprised by Death” is one such track, it has a bit more power to it. It’s a bit more raw and leaning towards the rock elements, but again changing to pop at chorus. But synthpop is soon to be heard again on “We are Rockets”, the song you must immediately love, such an optimistic (as I don’t want to use word “happy”) song, with only a pinch of melancholy, almost in traces. I would like to consider this track as the most happy Machinista can get, and they succeeded to make a synthpop anthem of these two albums. I can see some real dancing at their gigs here (hope guys perform it live). But if you really understand the lyrics, it’s not all so bright over there.
You can see again a step away from the first album in “Ghosts”, like they sunk a bit deeper from pure melancholy into a darker expression here, more layered, less obvious, and I would expect this track from a band that is maybe more oriented towards “goth” music than synthpop but it is still pop. Another true pop song is “Battered”, an easy flowing, catchy tune, as Machinista is like a hit factory. As I think they show a bit of a stronger attitude or versions of themselves on this album, I got that feeling about “In Between and above it all” but they kept their melancholy and melodic tunes. However, the track that impressed me the most on Garmonbozia they left for the very end. It is the closing track “Train”. I have to say, it stands out from the rest of the tracks they have done so far. It is, I think, the darkest point of both of the albums, very thoughtfully made, greatly arranged, and there are more influences to be heard on it. This one I would not label as pop (maybe they would disagree and of course they surely have their vision of it) as I think it’s too experimental and complex to be called pop, even if there is a chorus to pull it from its depth and complexity. Even John gives a different vocal performance here, and as it is so multi-layered I can listen to it again and again and discover a new dimension to it every time. This is the only track where I was not interested in reading the lyrics, as the music satisfied so much of my curiosity that I enjoyed listening to it and catching bits of lyrics along the way. John, sorry, I am not interested in what you have to say this time. The vocals are a bit shadowed here, even John is great in leading the listener, this time the music and the arrangement take over almost completely as there are many layers to be revealed by our ears and minds here.