photo by Jess Bang

The artist is called Death Machine. This is their single called “Up. Until today, I had heard of neither, and I immediately asked myself why. That is a useless question, of course; Death Machine are here, and “Up” is bound to stay in my mind for a while with its evocative soundscape, and I shall not question it further. I will, however, spend a few paragraphs detailing what makes this song tick. And it certainly does tick a lot of lovely boxes.

It is clear from the first syllable that the song is here to communicate emotions: anguish, longing for things unattainable, the ennui of a long life lived for little else than the fleeting. Perhaps, a sense of optimism lies hidden beneath the slippery surface. 

The Mellotron-inspired synths cast my ears back to the experimental days of The Beatles, while the constantly driving beat, groovy bass ostinato and octave-laden vocal tracks take us through the New Wave sounds of the ‘80s and into contemporary indie music. The music historian within me finds himself thrown back and forth on a ride through modern popular music, and it is a most welcome one. The bass and drums are dry, warm, impactful and — most importantly — groovy enough to give the rest of the arrangement an upbeat feel. The vocals are drowned in reverb, and the chord-bearing instruments are drenched in pitch shifters, as if to suggest that we are cruising along the bottom of an endless ocean, experiencing the miracle of breathing underwater for the first time and having a blast doing it. What isn’t grooving is wobbling, and the entire soundscape is therefore filled with an energy that is not pushy, loud or aggressive. Rather, it is melancholic, thoughtful, yet seemingly insisting on feeling alive.

The music video shows a man emerging from the water. He staggers onto the shore, drops his drenched clothes and proceeds, as if hellbent on a mission, to run through day and night to a wooden hut, wherein his ultimate purpose appears to be the killing of an unsuspecting television viewer. With a glittery jacket as the prize for his unlawful deed, he then dances away inside an imagined flickery cage of his own making, whilst his husk of a body sits back in the chair of his victim, ready for the cycle to begin anew. 

What optimism lies under this surface, you may ask? My honest answer probably betrays my naivety, but in this quest of our lives, the murder of our neighbours and our personal ideals will never fulfill the purpose of feeling alive. In order to side-step the personal calamity of falling down the same rabbit hole as the mysterious man in the video, we must break the vicious cycle by finding ourselves worthy and fulfilled by what we are and can be in the now, rather than what we can have or become in the future. The purpose of discussing these issues means that there is hope that they can be solved.

There is something unnerving about listening to a recent release that feels new and old at the same time. Old because of the wide variety of old-school instruments and production techniques. New because of the fresh way in which all the aforementioned pieces have been assembled and the urgency of the message behind the song and the video. 

Despite having an awkward name for a waterpark, Death Machine give me food for thought with their music. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for this band, and, frankly, so should you.

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