There’s something about The M Machine’s sound, in its richness, its uniqueness, its personality, that feels solid. Electronic music can sound like an intangible construct in the hands of lesser artists, but the synths and samples used by the San Francisco group have so much weight and character to them that they sound organic and tactile, like one could simply reach out and grasp them. It’s a big part of what makes The M Machine so special – one can bypass the melodies, the harmonies, the artful arraignments, just listen to the pure sound of what they create, and be enthralled.
The sounds on Glare, the duo’s first full length album, are so expressive and textured and that they almost don’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense that an album should sound this thick and warmblooded, this ambitious and deliberate, and still be what is, essentially, charming and expertly-executed pop music. But perhaps it should no longer be surprising that The M Machine, who brought us the Metropolis Pts I & II and Just Like EPs, can pull off things that most others can’t. Who else would release their album to fans a month early, on the condition that people had to listen to it together?
In hindsight, that would probably be the best way to hear Glare for the first time – just sitting in a room, with a group of people. There’s something communal about the album; it’s strange, and new, and interesting, but it’s also open, and instantly accessible. It’s highly sophisticated indie dance with a pop soul. And it’s so individual that it feel timeless, as much like the future as a rediscovered gem from the past.
Glare is the kind of album that’s hard to analyze. It’s so wonderfully peculiar that it’s almost more fun just to listen to it than to pick it apart. But there are two obvious reasons why it works as well as it does: a deft and assured understanding of craft, and a consistent, sincere sense of enthusiasm for its own aesthetic. The M Machine’s diverse influences are apparent, but manifest more as interpretations than regurgitated references. Rather than simply imitate indie rock or downtempo, as some artists might do, the group boils these other genres down to their essence, figures out what makes them work, and retools them to align with their own unique voice.
The album is, therefore, grounded in an established musical grammar, the product of an understanding of formula and convention rather than a blind adherence to tradition. These guys know how to write catchy melodies. They know how to build a groove. They know how to make songs that stick with you, that leave an impact. And, it’s this technical mastery that makes Glare, despite it’s undeniable quirkiness and intelligence, sound so lived-in and homey. It’s at once daringly new and comfortingly familiar.
Take the album’s most recent single, “Talking Machine.” It’s a thunderous electro anthem with huge drums and deliciously crunchy bass, but it’s also got recordings of Thomas Edison, a wailing guitar solo, and a colorful sense of theatrics that shouldn’t all gel the way they do. Something this infectious shouldn’t be able to carry a high concept, and something this thoughtful and complex shouldn’t be so irresistibly accessible. But every part of “Talking Machine” works so well that it seems obvious, and, listening to it, one wonders how it hasn’t been thought of before.
Glare is full of ideas that are so good that one wonders how they haven’t been thought of before. “Blind,” the albums’s opener, begins with distant strings and crackling ambiances. A hi-hat, and then a drum beat, fold out of these sonic layers and dance around a steady chord motif that swells and swells into an astounding crescendo. It’s a masterclass in sustaining and escalating tension. Each added layer, each narrative shift is well calculated and executed flawlessly, “Heart Sandwich” is itself a musical sandwich, with lush, bold synth arpeggios and a syncopated drum beat set between passages of gentle piano. The chords and drums on “The Warehouse” are so wide and fuzzy that they wrap themselves around the listener like a thick blanket.
But, there are plenty of thoughtful, well-constructed albums full of great ideas. What makes this one so special is how easy it is to get distracted by how much fun it is. Glare is, above all else, an absolute blast. It’s flashy and bright and colorful, endlessly danceable and so disarmingly playful that its emotional moments pack that much more of a punch. Glare is sweet and soft, bright and warm, heavy, fun, deep, and vividly corporeal.
It’s fair to assume that there were a couple Top 40 artists who got a little nervous when they heard The M Machine’s new magnum opus. If songs like “Honeybucket” and “Voyeur” ever made it onto the radio, people might start to expect a lot more out of their pop music.
Stream Glare in full below: